Czech president-elect Petr Pavel’s vivid portrayal of China is in line with the current trend of European Union countries, which have recently begun to place more emphasis on human rights issues and Taiwan independence. Beijing, on the other hand, is trying to improve its relations with Europe, and is unlikely to take any major retaliatory action against the Czech Republic any time soon.
Two days after his election, the Czech presidential candidate had a phone call with Taiwan’s President Chai Jing-wen, which was immediately condemned by Chinese diplomacy. Paul then stated that China not a friendly country and that he is willing to meet the Dalai Lama of Tibet after taking office. Both Taiwan and Tibet are considered by China to be an integral part of it, and contact with their leaders is called interference.
“This is another example of a wider shift in the perception of China not only as an economic opportunity, but also as a political responsibility,” Alicja Bachulská of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think tank told ČTK of Pavlov’s activities.
According to him, it is understandable that in the context of the war in Ukraine, Pavel chose Taiwan as the country he wanted to strengthen his ties with. Like Ukraine, Taiwan will have to deal with the shadow of a much larger authoritarian power and may be next in line for a possible military conflict. “Europe is slowly moving to reassess its position on China, and strengthening relations with Taiwan is an important element of this reform,” Bachulská assessed.
Like him, Grzegorz Stec of the Institute of Chinese Studies MERICS believes that the Chinese leadership is currently seeking to improve relations with Europe and that no significant reaction to the directives given by Pavel can be expected.
“Beijing has experience with European leaders softening their tone in office, and hopes this procedure will be repeated in Pavlo’s case as well,” believes Stec. However, if Pavel plans a visit to Taiwan after taking office in March, for example, Beijing is bound to exert more pressure, according to analysts.
EU diplomats note the recent example of Lithuania allowing Taiwan to open a trade representative in Vilnius. In response, Beijing blocked imports of goods from the Baltic country, prompting the EU to turn to the World Trade Organization last year.
According to analysts, it is unlikely that the situation will be repeated in the near future, China will try to prevent potential diplomatic disputes from escalating to EU level for as long as possible.
The signal shift sent by the Czech president-elect “represents one of the most dramatic shifts in rhetoric against China to have occurred in Europe in recent years,” said Stec of the differences between Pavlo and outgoing President Zeman. According to Steca, the future head of state more accurately describes the current transformation of relations between Central and Eastern European countries towards Beijing.
“They weakened because of China’s calculated support for Russia and unfulfilled economic expectations,” said Stec, referring to China’s unfulfilled investment promises in the Czech Republic and other countries. According to him, since the beginning of the war, countries from regions close to Russia have prioritized security, in relation to the US which regards China as its main rival.
Video: “She immediately knew who to call.” Robert Fico leans heavily on Petr Pavel (3 February 2023)
“He knew immediately who to contact,” said Robert Fico to Petr Pavel. | Videos: Facebook/Robert Fico
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