Prague and Peking signed a sister-city agreement on March 30th, 2016, just after Chinese President Xi Jinping had finished a two-day state visit to the Czech Republic, the first paid to any Central or Eastern European country.
Then Mayor Adriana Krnáčová (born 1960) from the center-right party ANO 2011 reportedly proposed an extensive clause about a sensitive topic: “The City of Prague confirms its continuous commitment to the “One-China policy” of the Government of the Czech Republic, and acknowledges that Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory.”
Taiwan, ruled separately from the People’s Republic since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, is considered by the Red Mandarins as a renegade province that needs to be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.
This wouldn’t prove to be an issue until the city’s administration changed in November 2018, when Taiwan-friendly Zdenek Hrib (born 1981) from the anti-establishment Pirate Party assumed the post.
Hrib unsuccessfully tried to have that pledge removed and received no satisfactory answers. Prague’s city council’s reasoned that including a political clause went against standard practice for sister-city agreements.
The decision to repeal the whole deal passed on October 7th, 2019, but the Czechs weren’t able to implement the step, as the Chinese themselves ended the relationship on October 9th.
On December 2nd, 2019, the Czech capital announced that it would sign a sister city agreement with its Taiwanese counterpart, formalizing a long functioning relationship.
It was sealed on January 13th, 2020, during a visit by Taipei Mayor and Chairman of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) Ko Wen-je (born 1959) to Prague.
As a symbol of their new official friendship, Taiwan promised the Prague Zoo, two pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters. The animal gift was confirmed on August 31st of last year by the Taipei Zoo.
Hrib hailed the new twinning with Taipei as “most beneficial” for both parties, citing “shared democratic values, respect for fundamental human rights and cultural freedoms.”
He also condemned China as an unreliable partner full of resentment and trying to influence Czech public opinion and that he could not sign an agreement that forced Prague to speak out against the independence of Tibet and Taiwan.
At the same time, Hrib accused the Czech government of bowing to China on many fronts and neglecting ideals of the peaceful 1989 Velvet Revolution, led by dissident Václav Havel’s (1936-2011) Civic Forum, which helped to end more than four decades of Communist rule in former Czechoslovakia, which disappeared on December 31st, 1992.
While Czech President Milos Zeman (born 1944) is well known for his pro-Chinese stance, the financial PPF Group of the wealthiest Czech, Petr Kellner (born 1964), plays a major on China’s loan market.
For his part Ko, sometimes criticized for being too China-friendly, said that Peking should respect Prague’s right to choose with which of the world’s metropolises it wants to become a sister city.
One day later, the agreement on sister city relationship between Shanghai and Prague, inked on May 17th, 2017, was terminated by the Chinese side.
It released the following statement: “The administration of the city of Prague of the Czech Republic has repeatedly made wrongful moves on the Taiwan question… The Shanghai Municipal People’s Government and its people express our strong condemnation and solemn protest.”
What differentiates the abruptly terminated Taipei-Prague-Shanghai triangle partnership from others like Taipei-San Francisco-Shanghai or Taipei-Riga-Peking is the fact that this was the first and so far only case since Xi’s accession to Chairman of the Communist party of China (CCP) in 2012 that a metropolis already partnered with a Chinese city also decided to conclude a partnership with a Taiwanese counterpart.
Interestingly enough, Ko’s KMT predecessor Hau Lung-pin (born 1952) launched an annual Shanghai-Taipei City Forum in 2010, which was last hold virtually on July 22nd, 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
However, worse was yet to come not only for Shanghai, but the whole of China: From August 30th to September 4th, 2020 a 89-member delegation from the Czech Republic, headed by Czech Senate President Milos Vystrcil, which also included Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib, president of the Czech Center of PEN International Jiri Dedecek, Prague Philharmonia director Katerina Kalistova and Czech-Taiwan Business Chamber chairman Pavel Divis, visited Taiwan.
Outraged, Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi spoke of a “provocation”, “short-sighted behavior and political speculation”. Vystrcil had “crossed a red line” for which he would “pay a high price”.
So it’s obviously not only at city-level that the bilateral relations between China and the Czech Republic would need some improvement.