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The Government of Petr Fiala (ODS) has committed to revising relations with China in its program statement. This was mainly influenced by former president Miloš Zeman’s affection for the communist regime in Beijing.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is handling preparations for a new arrangement of relations between the Czech Republic and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Seznam Zprávy has now found a key thesis from the emerging document, which is supposed to strengthen the position of the Czech Republic in mutual relations.
“The issue of reviewing relations with China is straightening out relations that have been quite lame in the past. Great hopes were raised, but not fulfilled. The result is a deepening mutual trade deficit and the embarrassment of Chinese investment in our country,” Deputy Minister Jiří Kozák (ODS), responsible for redefining Czech-China relations, told Seznam Zprávám.
“Revisions must reflect the changing international political environment, China’s role in it, our role and that of the European Union. We want such a relationship to be based on mutual respect,” he said.
He stressed that this new concept would put more emphasis on human rights issues. Their fears of disobedience include, for example, the Chinese regime’s suppression of Tibet or the persecution of the Uyghurs. In the Miloš Zeman era, the appeal to the business side of mutual relations prevailed, but in the Czech Republic, despite the promises of 100 billion Chinese financiers, it ended in failure.
“Of course, issues of human rights and freedoms are part of our relationship. We opened this topic and we will open it, it is also part of the revision. And we are also closely watching how China reacts to Russian aggression in Ukraine. China is taking over and passing on the picture of war as painted by Russia, and that is wrong,” Kozak added.
Leaving the 16+1 platform for China’s cooperation with Central and Eastern European countries (established in 2012) is also at stake. However, the Czech Republic is strategically waiting to make clear maneuvers in this initiative.
“The government has clearly stated in its program statement that they will review our relationship with China. This process is currently ongoing and the issue of the 16+1 format is an integral part of it,” Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský (Pirates) told Seznam Zprávám.
According to Deputy Foreign Minister Jiří Kozák, Russia’s war in Ukraine has shown how important it is – from a security and economic standpoint – to decide who to do business with or where people and companies keep their money. As an example, he cites the collapse of the Russian bank Sberbank, in which Czech regions and cities were left with several billion crowns after the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops.
In this context, he highlighted the importance of Czech cooperation with Taiwan, which was visited by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Markéta Pekarová Adamová (TOP 09), recently. According to the Respekt weekly, Information Security Services (BIS) chief Michal Koudelka was also supposed to attend some of its meetings.
All of this comes at a time when analysts and pundits warn of the danger of escalating conflict between China and Taiwan, which Beijing regards as its renegade province. Support for Taiwan will be part of Prague’s new arrangement of relations with Beijing.
“Taiwan has long been a partner of the Czech Republic. Czech companies or innovation centers are interested in cooperating, especially in modern technologies. And our goal is to support this cooperation,” said Deputy Minister Kozák.
According to him, the state will be more than ever in control of Chinese capital that is encroaching on areas sensitive to internal security. In early March, for example, the National Office for Cyberand Information Security (NÚKIB) issued a warning against installing and using the Chinese app TikTok.
“It is important for the Czech Republic that, thanks to the amendments proposed by the current Minister of Foreign Affairs Lipavský and the Chairman of the Security Committee of the Chamber of Deputies, Žáček, it is possible to introduce a ban on the participation of Russia and China in the Dukovan settlement tender. Equally important for our open economy are laws about inspections of foreign investment in sensitive areas by non-EU companies,” added Kozák.
Immediately after being elected to the Castle, Petr Pavel also made a change from the pro-China policy of Zeman, who spoke by telephone with Taiwanese President Chai Jing-wen.
Fear of war
Jakub Janda, director of the Center for Security on European Values, considers it important to emphasize the Czech-Taiwanese relationship.
“The confrontation between China and the democratic world will escalate in the coming years, with China preparing to attack Taiwan. Therefore, it is logical that the Czech state will reduce its dependence on China and is already a friend of Taiwan in Europe today – Taiwan does not receive strong political support from the Czech Republic from anyone in Europe,” Janda told Seznam Zprávám.
He set up an office for the Association of European Values in the capital Taipei last year, which became the first European think tank to have a branch in Taiwan. “The Czech Republic can benefit from this through economic relations, but also by acquiring Taiwan’s knowledge of China, which as an enemy of our civilizational circle, we must understand as best we can,” added Janda.
Value vs. pragmatism
Former foreign minister Tomáš Petříček also welcomed the review of Czech-China relations, which he said had seen significant changes in the international context, changes in the world economy and security.
“Geopolitical tensions are growing in the world. China is behaving more and more decisively and is increasingly openly promoting changes in the international order, which is currently built on rules and respect for international norms. It is impossible to pretend that China does not pose risks in a number of areas. That is also why I am convinced that we should open the debate about future relations with China,” the former head of the Černín Palace and former deputy chairman of the ČSSD told Seznam Zprávám.
He will set a policy towards China that is not only pragmatic, but also values based. “The debate must be carried out substantively, based on the value-pragmatist tradition, which often characterizes our foreign policy and, in my opinion, must continue to define it. And this debate must also be placed in a European context, because we are not only talking about Czech-China relations, but the further direction of the entire Union relationship with China,” Petříček added.
The shadow foreign minister of the ANO opposition movement, Jaroslav Bžoch, believes that foreign policy towards China is not only based on human rights, but also pragmatic. “The Czech Republic has always had a clear position on the PRC, and human rights have always been discussed during most of the meetings at higher levels. That is important and the Czech Republic’s position will always be the same on this. But a revision of relations cannot only concern this part. Foreign policy must also be pragmatic, and we cannot expect the PRC to start looking at the world in the same way as Western countries,” he told Seznam Zprávám.
According to him, it is necessary to consider China’s position and strategy in important international issues. “I’m not saying we have to tread carefully around the PRC. We have to be strong in our positions, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to tear it down completely. We need to carefully monitor what China is doing internationally. Today, he playing the role of peacemaker in Ukraine, but also bringing Saudi Arabia and Iran closer together. All these are warning signs for the EU and the whole West, and we must pay full attention to them,” he added.
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