Czech president-elect causes stir with call to Taiwan

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaks by phone with the Czech Republic's President elect Petr Pavel

China's foreign ministry has reacted with anger to a phone call between Czech president-elect Petr Pavel and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen, reminding Prague of its commitment to the “One China” principle.

Petr Pavel | Photo: Ondřej Deml,  ČTK

The new Czech head of state, who is due to take office on March 9, has clearly indicated that the era of outgoing President Miloš Zeman’s pro-Chinese policy is well and truly over. Just hours after winning the presidential elections, he was on the phone to President Zelensky to assure him about continued Czech support in the war against Russia and on Monday he raised the ire of China by holding a telephone conversation with the president of Taiwan, despite the fact that the China-claimed island has no formal relations with Prague.

“Today, I spoke with the president of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen. I thanked her for her congratulations and I assured her that Taiwan and the Czech Republic share the values of freedom, democracy, and human rights. We agreed on strengthening our partnership,” Petr Pavel tweeted on Monday.

According to the Taiwanese President’s office, the call lasted about a quarter of an hour and Tsai expressed her wish to stay in touch with Pavel.

Meanwhile, the Chinese foreign ministry expressed concern over media information about the upcoming phone call between the Czech president-elect and the Taiwanese president, and later openly condemned what it saw as a breach of Prague’s commitment to the “One China” principle.

While diplomatic channels between Beijing and Prague are buzzing, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský claims that the Czech government had long ago declared its interest in cooperating with Taiwan due to its democratic set-up. Ahead of the phone conversation with the Taiwanese president, he met with Petr Pavel to discuss and coordinate foreign policy matters –including cooperation with Taiwan. Asked to comment on the upcoming call Minister Lipavský said:

Jan Lipavský | Photo: Office of Czech Government

“The government's policy on this issue [Taiwan] is quite clear and unchanging. Even in our policy program statement, we spoke about the aim of developing cooperation with Taiwan - economic, scientific and technical cooperation. We spoke about this with the president-elect and it is clear that he sees things in a very similar light. There are specific projects opening up with Taiwan, for example, concerning microchips and various other areas of economic cooperation. It is good to air these things, to speak about them openly.”

In the interview for Czech Radio, the Czech foreign minister welcomed the upcoming change-of-guard at Prague Castle since the outgoing president showed no interest in consulting foreign policy matters with him. Mr. Lipavský said that Petr Pavel was aware of the need for the country to speak coherently and with one voice.

The president-elect is no newcomer to international politics, he recognizes the need for close cooperation and coordination between various institutions, and I believe he will bring a new era of clarity and coherence into the country’s foreign policy, Mr. Lipavský said.