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.
The President of the Senate is the second-highest-ranking official of the Czech Republic. Vystrcil was elected in February 2020 after the death of his predecessor, Jaroslav Kubera, who also had plans to tour Taiwan. After late Czech President Vaclav Havel (1936- 2011) in 2004, when he was no longer in office, Vystrcil is the most relevant official visitor from Prague ever.
According to Vystrcil, a member of the right-wing opposition Civic Democrats not bound by protocol, his trip doesn’t go against the “One-China principle”, as the Czech Republic has its “own interpretation” of that policy.
Asked if he and other senators would introduce bills friendly to Taiwan, or upgrade the status of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Prague by replacing “Taipei” with “Taiwan”, he made clear that diplomatic policy is not determined by the Czech Senate, but by pertinent administrative agencies.
As Communist Czechoslovakia had recognized the People’s Republic of China almost immediately after Mao Tse-tung proclaimed it on October 1st, 1949, strong condemnation came from Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi: with this “provocation”, Vystrcil had “crossed a red line” and Peking would make him “pay a high price for his short-sighted behavior and political speculation.”
As a result, Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Tomas Petricek summoned the Chinese Ambassador in Prague, Zhang Jianmin, to explain those words. Petricek made a clear statement: “Of course the journey has an impact on our relationship with China, but I think this has gone too far.”
Taiwanese President Tsai Ying-wen, who had welcomed the Czech guests with a message on Facebook, on September 2nd praised Vystrcil for making an important first step in breaking down barriers, referring to Taiwan’s international isolation caused by China’s constant bullying. She took the chance to posthumously confer the Order of Propitious Clouds with Special Cordon on Kubera.
Later that day, Vystrcil was received by Taiwanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu, who during a press conference underlined the trip’s historical significance and the 23 tangible accomplishments that had been achieved.
Further cooperation projects in public healthcare, biomedicine, epidemic prevention, artificial intelligence and aerospace technology will be added to those existing in the biomedical technology, mechanics and materials chemistry sectors.
To foster bilateral trade, an agreement to prevent double taxation between Taiwan and its fourth-largest investment destination in Europe was signed on May 12th, 2020. A significant increase in the import and export of high-value-added products is expected.
Local universities are to offer 50 scholarships to Czech students to learn Chinese in Taiwan. Academic exchanges between the Czech Academy of Sciences and Taiwan’s top national research institution, the Academia Sinica as well as Taiwan’s Asia Silicon Valley Development Agency and the Czech Agency of Technology will be boosted.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture plans to support the publication of translations of literary works from both countries as well as residencies and other projects by young artists. Various institutions of higher learning inked agreements.
After 2009, the Prague Philharmonia will perform in Taiwan again in 2021. A tour in China in 2019 was canceled, possibly due to Peking’s displeasure with Hrib, who has shown strong support for Taiwan.
At the Industrial Technology and Research Institute (ITRI) in Hsinchu, Vystrcil was introduced to Taiwan’s mask-making machinery and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing system. It particularly impressed him that it takes only one hour to detect the COVID-19 virus in its early stage, compared with the standard 24-hour period.
As the pandemic had exposed the risk of overreliance on a single country, the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) and the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) hosted a forum on supply chain restructuring, also attended by European and Japanese representatives. Jointly they expressed their will to increase consultations and cooperation in the information and communications technology and medical areas. Their goal is to ensure that “supply chains are secure and free from political coercion”, closer to home or like-minded economies, and based on democracy, free markets and respect for intellectual property rights.
Premier Su Tseng-chang thanked the Czech Republic for having spoken in 2018 and 2019 at the World Health Assembly in favor of Taiwan’s participation, interrupted since 2016 because of China’s interference.
In those two years, about 180,000 Taiwanese visited the Czech Republic. Not only for them it is very good news that Hsieh Shih-chien, chairman of Taiwan’s carrier China Airlines, and Czech Airlines will most likely soon operate direct flights between the two capitals.
After speaking at the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s unicameral legislature, Vystrcil received a Congressional Diplomacy Honorary Medal, making him the first legislative head from a country with which Taiwan has no diplomatic relations to receive the recognition since it was created in 2007. As he had been invited by Legislative Speaker You Si-kun, Vystrcil expressed hope that his counterpart might be able to reciprocate the visit someday.
I sincerely hope this brave move by Vystrcil encourages other European leaders of his status to follow in his steps soon. As he formulated it so accurately while referring to Taiwan-Czech relations, they should learn from him and finally prioritize “action over arguments”.
P.D.: Everybody involved wore surgical masks decorated with the flag of both nations.