Prague, Czech Republic – A month after the Czech capital officially terminated its sister city agreement with Beijing, Prague’s anti-establishment mayor Zdeněk Hřib announced on Monday that Prague will now likely sign a new sister city agreement with Taipei.
If the agreement is approved by the Prague assembly on December 12, it should be officially signed when Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je visits the Czech capital in January.
The sister city agreement would include cooperation in the fields of economy, business, science, technology, tourism, education, health care, and culture. As part of the new pact, mayor Hrib announced that Prague would also send students to Taipei to study Chinese and learn from Taiwan’s experience in healthcare and operating its Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system.
He also revealed that the Prague Zoo would receive pangolins from the Taipei Zoo.
Pangolins over pandas
Last month, Prague municipal authorities officially decided to drop its sister agreement with Beijing following the Chinese authorities’ refusal to delete an article which bounds Prague to officially recognise the ‘One China’ policy.
“Human rights are worth more than a panda at the zoo”, argued at the time Jan Čižinsky from Prague 7, hinting to the fact that former Prague mayor Adriana Krnáčová mentioned China’s (unkept) promise to donate a panda to the Prague Zoo to justify her decision to include the ‘One China’ policy clause in the sister city agreement.
A prominent supporter of Tibet and Taiwan, Hřib had been trying for months to amend the sister-agreement, arguing that this clause had no place whatsoever in such an agreement, and that other European cities, including London, didn’t have to include an article on the ‘One China’ policy in their sister-pact with Beijing.
Signed in 2016 by Adriana Krnacova, the cooperation agreement between the Czech and Chinese capitals explicitly stated that Prague vows to acknowledge the “One China” policy, a cornerstone of Beijing’s rule dating back to 1949 that doesn’t recognise Taiwan as an independent and sovereign state and sees it as a breakaway province to be reunified with China.
A vocal critic of China
Since taking office last November, Prague’s Pirate mayor has been one of the most vocal critics of China and officials in Beijing have grown increasingly uneasy over the threat of seeing years of (mostly opaque and controversial) rapprochement jeopardised by the “rogue” Prague mayor.
In March this year, Hřib met with the head of the Tibetan government in exile Lobsang Sangay. He also announced Prague will once more join the Flags for Tibet Initiative, an annual initiative joined by hundreds of Czech cities and municipalities since the late 1990’s to express support for Tibet’s independence – and ignored for the last four years when ANO controlled the Prague municipal hall.
The dispute escalated in recent months after Chinese authorities warned the Prague leadership to respect its interests in Taiwan and Tibet, not to undermine bilateral relations and “to act in favour of the common interests of both countries”. It prompted China to cancel, in retaliation, a number of tours planned in the country for Prague-based musical orchestras and cultural institutions, starting from the Prague Philharmonic back in June. Apart from the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, the Prague Quartet, the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Guarneri Trio were also unable to perform in China.
If the new sister-city agreement with Taipei was to be confirmed, this would undoubtedly add to China’s grievances and could be seen as a point of no-return in the tumultous Prague-Beijing relations.
Meanwhile, the Czech government sticks by its official position and recognises the ‘One China’ policy.
Taiwan has been ruled separately from China since the end of a civil war in 1949, but under its “one-China” policy, Beijing considers it a part of its territory.