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“I am Taiwanese” speech by Czech Senate leader angers China

Prague, Czech Republic – “I am Taiwanese,” said Czech Senate President Miloš Vystrčil during a speech at Taiwan’s parliament as part of a historic visit that has expectedly angered officials in China.

The controversial speech, which echoed the famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” by U.S. President John F. Kennedy in Berlin in 1963, prompted further backlash from China which had already condemned the Czech official’s visit to Taiwan.

A controversial visit…

“Please allow me to use the same method to express support for Taiwan’s people. Allow me to be so humble but also resolute in saying to your country’s parliament that I am Taiwanese,” Vystrčil said in Czech to a standing ovation.

The Czech Senate leader is heading up a 90-member delegation of Czech political and civic leaders to Taipei, the largest-ever Czech delegation visiting Taiwan since 1989, which China called “a despicable act” that would wreck bilateral relations.

During his visit to Germany’s capital Berlin on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the Senate president’s trip to Taiwan amounted to “crossing a red line,” adding that Vystrčil would “pay a heavy price” for his appearance.

“The Chinese government and people will never let it go and sit back and watch, and must let him pay a heavy price for his short-sighted behaviour and political speculation,” Wang said, according to a statement published on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website.

While the Czech government has not supported the visit, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis has labelled the statement “impertinent and inappropriate”.

Meanwhile, Taiwan described the Czech visit as standing up to “the intimidation of authoritarian China.”

“Our nations share many core values and we look forward to furthering cooperation in all areas,” Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen wrote on Twitter after the delegation landed.

Vystrčil has said his Taiwan trip would fulfil the legacy of the late president Vaclav Havel, a dissident under the country’s Communist rule and a personal friend of the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama.

Bilateral relations took a turn for the worse and erupted into an all-out diplomatic crisis. Credit: EPA-EFE/MADOKA IKEGAMI / POOL

… amidst a growing diplomatic rift between Prague and Beijing

While Czech President Milos Zeman has long spearheaded efforts to forge closer ties with the world’s second-largest economy, Beijing’s undue influence the Czech Republic and failure to live up to its commitments and investment promises came under increased scrutiny during the past year.

The Czech cybersecurity and counter-intelligence agencies have repeatedly warned of the threat presented by China’s growing espionage activities in the Central European country and advised against the use of telecoms giant Huawei’s products in critical infrastructure, saying they could pose a serious security risk.

Bilateral relations took a turn for the worse and erupted into an all-out diplomatic crisis last year after the mayor of Prague Zdenek Hrib (Pirate Party), an outspoken critic of China and supporter of Taiwan and Tibet, terminated the capital’s sister-agreement with Beijing.

Prague has since then moved to sign a twin-city agreement with Taipei. “Human rights are worth more than a panda”, municipal councilor Jan Čižinsky summed up, referring to Beijing’s (unkept) promise to donate a panda to the Prague Zoo.

In a surprising move, Czech President Milos Zeman himself announced he wound’t be traveling to Beijing to attend the international 17+1 summit in April, arguing that China had failed to live up to its side of the bargain in terms of investments.

Headed by Kafkadesk's chief-editor Jules Eisenchteter, our Prague office gathers over half a dozen reporters, editors and contributors, as well as our social media team. It covers everything Czech and Slovak-related, and oversees operations from our other Central European desks in Krakow and Budapest.