Senate speaker announces trip to Taiwan, potentially angering China

Miloš Vystrčil, photo: ČTK / Michal Krumphanzl

The Speaker of the Czech Senate Miloš Vystrčil will lead a trade mission to Taiwan in August, he announced at a press conference on Tuesday. The decision comes after many months of consideration from the speaker’s side and strong Chinese diplomatic pressure to prevent the visit from happening.

Miloš Vystrčil,  photo: ČTK / Michal Krumphanzl

Jaroslav Kubera,  photo: Khalil Baalbaki,  Czech Radio
A trip to Taiwan was originally planned by the current Senate speaker’s predecessor, Jaroslav Kubera. However, he died of a sudden heart attack just days after receiving an official letter from the Chinese Embassy warning that the Taiwan question was very delicate in light of the Asian power’s One China policy and that such a visit would result in Czech businesses having to “pay” for the consequences.

Originally confidential, the letter caused a stir among parts of the Czech public after it was leaked and published by news site Aktuálně.cz a month later, on the day of Mr Vystrčil’s election.

The Senate speaker said from the start that he would seriously consider both the advantages and disadvantages of such a trip.

Photo: Jeffrey J. Davis,  Flickr,  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
On Tuesday, Mr Vystrčil finally announced his plan to go ahead with the trip on which he will be accompanied by a Czech business delegation.

He said his reasons are twofold. First, he believes that it will be beneficial to the Czech Republic's economic, scientific and cultural development, as well as uphold the rules by which democratic countries behave to each other.

The second reason is a matter of internal importance to the Czech state, he said.

"During the debate around my trip to Taiwan, it became clear that the clash regarding the centerpoint upon which we place our values, those values we fought for and won in 1989, is returning to our country.

“By this I mean the clash between our core values and the principles on which we operate. Sovereignty, independence, rule of law, freedom and democracy is in conflict with something I have chosen to call 'counting coins'.

“Either we will hold on to our principles and values, or we will choose to count coins. By choosing to travel to Taiwan, I am speaking in favour of our core values and against the counting of coins, because if we choose to do the latter we may discover one day that we no longer have any values."

Mr Vystrčil said that one of the reasons he chose to wait with his decision was the dependence on China during the highpoint of the coronavirus pandemic, when the country was in lockdown and needed supplies of protective medical equipment. He referred to this as the powerlessness of the powerful, possibly a twist in the wording of former President Václav Havel’s famous book The Power of the Powerless.

“A situation in which the prime minister and interior minister are completely dependent on what one large, undemocratic country chooses to do. On whether it chooses to provide us with protective equipment or not.

“I saw what the powerlessness of the powerful looks like when we choose to make ourselves dependent on someone who is willing to think of us as a gateway to Europe rather than as a partner.”

Jiří Drahoš,  photo: Martin Vlček,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY 3.0
Former presidential candidate and current Senator Jiří Drahoš also announced he will be taking part in the trip.

Meanwhile, the spokesman of the Czech president Jiří Ovčáček likened Mr Vystrčil’s trip to a visit to the separatist Donetsk region in the east of Ukraine. The Czech president is known for his good relations and frequent visits to China. In fact, according to the daily Deník N, the original of the Chinese Embassy’s letter had been ordered by the Office of the President. Its Chancellor, Vratislav Mynář, has denied this.

Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček also recommended that Mr Vystrčil should not travel to Taiwan and respect the One China policy in an interview with Czech Television.