The Mayor of Prague visited Taipei this week, and China responded by pressuring the Czech Republic to expel Taiwan’s representative from an economic meeting held in the country.
Prague’s mayor, Zdeněk Hřib, was in Taipei from March 26 to March 29 to attend the Smart City Summit and Expo.
During his visit, Hřib met with Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je, and noted that since his last stay, 14 years ago, both Taipei and Prague had changed a lot, but both cities share a spirit dedicated to liberal democracy, sustainable development, and Smart City concepts.
Zdeněk Hřib was elected Mayor of Prague in November 2018.
While Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party suffered defeats in municipal elections the same month, the election in Prague saw the Czech Pirate Party taking power on a platform of transparency in government, political accountability, anti-corruption, e-government, public participation decision-making, and protecting civil liberties.
But the new mayor soon proved to be an irritant to the authoritarian government of China. In January this year, Hřib announced his intention to remove a clause in a sister city agreement with Beijing demanding that Prague adheres to a “one China” policy and “acknowledges Taiwan as an inalienable part of Chinese territory”.
In an interview with Taiwan’s Central News Agency, Hřib said that the clause in the agreement was “a mistake,” and that he will request Beijing to remove the clause, and if they refuse, he would rather terminate the sister city relationship altogether.
Unlike the former municipal authorities, who signed the agreement when China Communist Party President Xi Jinping visited the city in 2016, Zdeněk Hřib, actually has some familiarity with Taiwan.
While studying medicine at Charles University in Prague, Hřib spent time as an intern at Chang Gung Hospital in Taiwan
Hřib told CNA that “it was a mistake of our political predecessors to allow the Beijing side to drag them into this complicated matter.”
“I believe this clause has actually absolutely no place in a sister city agreement, so we would like to leave it out,” Hřib said.
Hřib, who worked in the healthcare industry, focusing on digitization of healthcare services prior to his entry into politics, also supports Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organization.
The mayor of Prague hopes that direct flights between the two cities can be established, and that student exchanges will increase.
On the second day of the mayor’s visit, Taiwan’s representative to the Czech Republic, Wang Chung-I (汪忠一) was expelled from a meeting held by the Czech Ministry of Industry and Trade, on the insistence of Chinese ambassador Zhang Jianmin (張建敏).
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called out the Chinese for “barbaric behavior.”
When asked about the incident during his visit to Tawan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hřib said that as a matter of simple human decency, it would be unacceptable to turn away a guest that he, as host, had invited, and therefore “this would never happen on an event that would be held by me.”
The mayor then revealed that he had been faced with the same situation when hosting an annual meeting between the mayor of Prague and international diplomats held shortly after the new year.
“I simply refused them,” the mayor said. “It is not possible to throw out a guest I have invited.”
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