“I am a Taiwanese”: Czech Senate speaker channels JFK in Taipei

Miloš Vystrčil, photo: ČTK/Michal Krumphanzl

The speaker of the Czech Senate referenced John F. Kennedy’s famous “I am a Berliner” speech in an address to Taiwan’s parliament on Tuesday. Coming soon after China said Miloš Vystrčil would “pay” for visiting Taiwan, the gesture seems likely to rile Beijing further.

The speaker of the Czech upper house, Miloš Vystrčil, is currently heading a 90-strong Czech delegation to Taiwan.

On Tuesday he received a personal honour, in the form of a medal for parliamentary democracy presented to him by the president of the Legislative Yuan, Yu Shyi-kun.

Addressing the Taiwanese parliament, Mr. Vystrčil said he regarded the recognition as actually belonging to the entire Czech Senate, which he said was his country’s most democratic institution.

And he closed his address with a historical reference.

“In 1963 the US president John F. Kennedy, in his famous ‘Ich bin ein berliner’ speech, unequivocally stood up to communism and repressive regimes and supported the inhabitants of West Berlin… Allow me now to express my support for Taiwan and liberty, the highest value, and to conclude my address here at the Legislative Yuan with a perhaps more modest, but equally emphatic, statement: I am a Taiwanese.”

Miloš Vystrčil, photo: ČTK/Michal Krumphanzl

Mr. Vystrčil’s closing words were met with a standing ovation from the assembled legislators – and are likely to enrage the authorities in Beijing even further.

Just one day earlier, the foreign minister of China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own territory, had said that the Czech Senate speaker would “pay a heavy price” for visiting the island.

Those words were coolly received in the Czech Republic, where the minister of foreign affairs described them as beyond the bounds of diplomacy and the prime minister said they were inappropriate.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague summoned the Chinese ambassador to explain the warning while Beijing later summoned the Czech ambassador for a similar dressing down.

Mr. Vystrčil has said his visit to Taiwan underlines the “values-based” foreign policy followed by the late Czechoslovak and later Czech president Václav Havel.

A spokesperson for current Czech President Miloš Zeman – who has fostered closer relations with China and has visited Beijing several times – said the Czech delegation’s visit to Taiwan had sparked controversy and worsened the international political standing of the country.

The Czech Republic respects Beijing’s One China policy and Mr. Vystrčil says his visit does not violate the country’s interpretation of it.

One of his remaining engagements on the five-day trip is a meeting on Thursday with the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, who will pay tribute to the Czech politician’s predecessor as Senate chair, Jaroslav Kubera.

Earlier this year China put pressure on Mr. Kubera to abandon a plan to visit Taiwan. He died of a heart attack soon afterwards.