Prague votes for controversial partnership agreement with Beijing

Beijing, photo: ahenobarbus, CC BY 2.0

The Czech capital, Prague, has voted to become a sister city of the Chinese capital, Beijing. The agreement covers a series of areas of cooperation but also includes a controversial clause recognizing the concept of One China.

Beijing,  photo: ahenobarbus,  CC BY 2.0
The running to finalize a sister city agreement was mostly made from the Chinese side since the summer of last year. And on Thursday it was sealed when 35 members of the Prague city assembly out of 65 voted in favour of the agreement. The council’s executive had only a few days earlier rejected the move.

Prague has a lot to gain from the connection with 22 million strong Beijing. The agreement covers exchanges and cooperation over tourism, culture, education, transport, and urban development. But clause three of the proposed text obliges Prague to recognize the principle of One China and includes a line that ‘Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory.’

At a protest meeting in Prague’s Wenceslas Square later on Thursday night the timing of Prague’s decision, on the 68th anniversary of the takeover of power in Czechoslovakia by the Communist Party in 1948 was pointed out. Speakers also questioned where the line would be drawn in fostering closer and more profitable political and economic relations with China.

Although a reshaped Czech foreign policy has already accepted the One China policy with regards to both Taiwan and Tibet, the move by Prague is nonetheless is a step too far for some leading members of the council.

One of the those opposed to the new agreement was former city executive member and recently elected Green Party leader Matěj Stropnický.

Matěj Stropnický,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“The other side, that is the representatives of the city of Beijing, are demanding that in a city to city agreement national and historical issues are dealt with. I don’t think that this belongs in a partnership agreement, If one side, that is the city of Beijing, insists that one of the points in a five point agreement is a declaration by Prague about One China and that Taiwan is an inseparable part of the territory of China, then I do not think this is a good start to a partnership. Partnerships should not include ultimatums, especially not at the start.”

Stropnický said he tried without success to push through a motion getting rid of the controversial clause in the agreement. He said Prague council members voting in favour of the ‘sister city’ status appeared to fear the consequences of promised Chinese investments in the Czech capital drying up if the deal was not signed with the One China

It’s not quite clear when the five year cooperation deal will be finally signed by mayors of Prague and Beijing. But the most likely date would be in March when Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to visit Prague and the mayor of Beijing, Wang Anshun, is expected to be in the delegation.