Czech Senate, business delegation heading to Taiwan despite Chinese objections

Photo: Matthew Fang, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Senate chairman and speaker Miloš Vystrčil is headed to Taiwan, along with a nearly 100-member delegation of businessmen, academics and seven fellow members of the upper house of parliament. The week-long visit starting Saturday seeks to strengthen bilateral ties and trade, in the face of fierce protest from China – and sharp criticism from some Czech officials.

Delegation heading to Taiwan,  photo: ČTK / Michal Krumphanzl

Sen. Vystrčil, a member of the opposition Civic Democrats, told a news conference on Thursday that the trip has three aims, the first being to help Czechs doing or seeking to do business with Taiwan.

“The second aim is to show that Czechia is a free, sovereign and democratic country, and our parliamentary diplomacy, in particular the Senate, wants this country to act as Václav Havel and [Foreign Minster] Jiří Dienstbier set out. This means defending our democratic principles and sovereignty. At the same time, and this is the third aim, to try to work together with all democratic countries, regardless of what anyone else wants us to do.”

Sen. Vystrčil is due to meet his own counterpart, as well as Taiwan’s prime minister and president, Tsai Ing-wen, who will pay tribute to the Czech politician’s predecessor as Senate speaker – the late Jaroslav Kubera, who had planned such a trip despite pressure from communist China, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province.

Jaroslav Kubera,  photo: Martin Vlček,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY 3.0

Kubera died of a heart attack just days after receiving an official letter from the Chinese Embassy in Prague warning that there would be repercussions for big Czech businesses – among them Škoda Auto, this country’s leading exporter, consumer lender Home Credit Group, and instrument maker Petrof Pianos.

Among the Czech politicians opposed to the Senate trip are Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) and Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček (Social Democrats), along with President Miloš Zeman, a vocal supporter of Beijing and its One China policy.

For her part, Dagmar Kuchtová, head of the Confederation of Industry and Transport, says Beijing is unlikely to follow on its threats of punitive action. That said, the Czech delegation does not include official representation from the apolitical lobbying group, although individual members do.

“We’ve said countless times that entrepreneurs should not fear doing business with Taiwan. At the same time, it is a very sensitive matter for umbrella organisations like us, even if we’ve been cooperating with Taiwan – and China – quite actively for more than 20 years.”

Representatives of Czech 36 companies will accompany the Senate delegation to establish contacts, conclude contracts and help increase Taiwanese investment in the Czech Republic and its competitiveness and restart.

Taipei,  photo: CEphoto,  Uwe Aranas,  CC BY-SA 3.0

Interior Minister Jan Hamáček (Social Democrats) and MEP Alexander Vondra (Civic Democrats) that the Czech delegation will serve as a “guinea pig” for other countries as to whether engaging further with Taipei will lead to more than sabre-rattling in Beijing.

Filip Jirouš of Sinopsis, a website that tracks China-related topics in the Czech Republic, is among those who predict reaction will be limited to a statement by the Chinese Embassy here or Chinese Foreign Ministry.

According to the Czech news agency ČTK, 70 politicians from the European Parliament, the United States, Canada, Australia and other countries have issued a joint statement expressing support for Sen. Vystrčil’s forthcoming visit and condemned mainland China’s efforts to thwart it.