Sinologist Filip Jirouš: China will keep pressuring Prague leadership, new agreement unlikely

Photo: Pixabay

Prague’s leadership has for months been trying to remove an article from an agreement signed between the Czech capital and Beijing during the rule of previous coalition, which refers to the One China concept. Mayor Zdeněk Hřib says the agreement should be apolitical and that including the formulation was a mistake. However, on Wednesday, China asked the Prague government not to interfere in Czech-Chinese relations, accusing Prague’s mayor and government of having behaved “very badly on issues involving China’s national sovereignty and core interests”. I asked Filip Jirouš of the China focused think-tank Sinopsis why Prague’s attempt met with such a strong reaction.

Filip Jirouš,  photo: Věra Luptáková / Czech Radio
“It is actually rather unusual for the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman to target a specific city government. This shows how symbolic and sensitive this issue is for the Chinese government, because they are really unhappy with how the Prague leadership is behaving and how it is trying to amend the treaty that it signed with Beijing."

Was originally agreeing to the specific point in the document a mistake? Did it unnecessarily introduce politics into a cultural agreement?

“Yes. This sort of article is not usually a part of such a type of agreement. Generally, these documents tend to be rather unpolitical. For example, if you look the treaties that Prague has with other Chinese cities like Shanghai, or Guangzhou, you see that this is not a normal part of such a deal.

“The prevalent opinion is that getting rid of that article is basically normalising the Prague-Beijing relationship to a sort of normally understood exchange.”

The agreement had a set duration period of five years. Would it not have been wiser for Prague to wait until it ran out and then negotiate new terms, as some are saying?

“Technically, it may have been a better move. However, at the same time, it was basically a part of revisiting the agreement by the new Prague administration. They realised that the agreement is not what it is supposed to be.

“This basically led to them to try and amend the agreement, and they probably did not expect negotiations to go on for so long – it’s been five or six months already. Nor did they likely think that the Chinese would be so sensitive to this. There is basically no rationale for the article being a part of the agreement.”

Photo: Pixabay
How do you expect this situation to develop in the coming months, perhaps years? What is likely to happen?

“To be honest, I do not expect the Chinese side to back down. National sovereignty and China trying to push its own language into agreements, deals and norms all around the world has been a very sensitive and important issue under Xi-Jinping’s rule.

“Therefore, I expect they will try to pressure the Prague leadership as well as other entities in the Czech Republic that are critical towards China and basically attempt to silence them. This is what they have been trying to do with the Prague mayor as well as with certain officials and politicians in the Czech political landscape.

“They will try to keep the pressure on and there will likely be no new agreement. So I think the mayor is now facing two options: annul the agreement, or simply ignore the fact that there is this clause.”