Expert: Pavel Taiwan call symbolic move for domestic electorate

Taipei, Taiwan

President-elect Petr Pavel made international news this week by phoning the president of Taiwan – and later saying Czechia would no longer act “like an ostrich” toward China. What is behind these moves? And what’s next for relations between Prague and the world’s most populous state? I discussed Mr. Pavel’s call to Taiwan and more with Ivana Karásková, a China specialist at Prague’s Association for International Affairs.

Ivana Karásková | Photo: AMO Archive

“It is not only significant, it’s actually unprecedented.

“If you can think of any other president or president-elect calling Tsai Ing-wen very shortly after they he was elected, that was only Donald Trump in 2016.

“So this is quite a significant move from the Czech side.

“The question of course is what is behind it – whether there is a big strategy, or whether it was a small tactical move.”

Tsai Ing-wen | Photo: Wind92,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

What’s your sense of which it is?

“Well, I’m afraid that I will not be very positive, regarding the existence of a strategy, which I would love to see – some kind of bigger strategy on what exactly the Czech Republic plans to do vis-à-vis China, vis-à-vis Taiwan, vis-à-vis the Indo-Pacific in general, and how that aligns with the interest of our allies and partners.

“Unfortunately, at least for now, I don’t see that.

“I do see this more as a symbolic move meant to mean something for the domestic electorate, for the constituency, rather than as a part of a bigger strategy.”

Petr Pavel | Photo: Martin Vaniš,  Radio Prague International

Do Petr Pavel’s moves have any ramifications at EU level? How do you think his actions this week have gone down in Brussels?

“I think that Brussels may be probably a little nervous.

“If you think of what smaller or middle-sized EU member states did in the past, it was kind of reminiscent of Lithuania’s move towards Taiwan.

“It’s not that drastic, or so significant, I would say, as allowing Taiwan to open a Taiwanese representative office in Vilnius.

“But still it’s quite a significant move anyway.

“So I think that it would be a question of the European Commission, the European External Action Service and other states – exactly what the Czech Republic plans to do in the near future, and whether that was the action of the president-elect or whether that signifies some kind of new policy of the Czech Republic.”

Jan Lipavský | Photo: Barbora Navrátilová,  Radio Prague International

The foreign minister, Jan Lipavský, says the government is looking to revise its relations with the Beijing government. What do you actually expect will come next when it comes to relations with China?

“I would expect the Czech Republic to leave the 14+1 [Cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries] format.

“The fact that this didn’t happen despite a lot of signaling from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially by the minister, Lipavský, previously is quite a significant move as well, I would say.

“Because Lipavský was very vocal about the need to leave the 14+1, or 16+1, format in the past.

“So the fact that we are not leaving means that at least there are some discussions about what the Czech Republic should do vis-à-vis China and how the country should position itself.

“The ministry is currently reviewing Czech China policy, so we should have a new one.

“So my bet here is that, despite Lipavský and the ministry being inclined towards a much harsher stance on China than the previous government, the question really is how exactly the Czech Republic would like to do that.”