Amid an increasing number of leaders who have signed agreements with Peoples Republic of China (PRC) declaring their discontinuation of relations with Taiwan, in a surprising turn of event, the Mayor of Prague on January 15 ended its partnership with Beijing and opted for Taiwan. Taiwan has been losing its diplomatic ties with various countries due to Beijing’s pressure and manipulation via economic incentives in an attempt to diminish Taiwan’s sovereignty. Beijing has clearly came out victorious given that Soloman Island and Kiribati decided to establish relations with China in September of last year, leaving Taiwan with only 15 nations that are its formal diplomatic allies. China’s economic muscle has always come handy for Beijing to ostracise Taiwan in their external relations and marginalise Taiwan politically.
However, Prague’s termination of its relations with Beijing is not only unanticipated but rather a bold move played by the local city government. Apparently, Beijing’s sister-city partnership with Prague ended when the city refused to commit to “One China” policy. The One China policy is a obligation that Beijing adamantly makes to all the countries in establishing relations with China. The policy is a basis of legitimacy asserted by PRC to denote that both Taiwan and Tibet belong to a single entity, the PRC. The Chinese government, in fact, condemned Prague for violating the One China policy and China’s core interest.
This event came at a time when the democratically reelected President Tsai Ing-wen irked mainland China rejecting the reunification process and was hailed as an independent Taiwanese leader. The electoral victory of the incumbent Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is not just a triumphant moment for her supporters but also for those nations rooting for democracy, liberty and social justice that she stands for. For her supporters, Tsai Ing-wen carries a strong message of political freedom and democratic rights. Moreover, Mayor Zdenek Hrib has touted Taiwan for carrying the same message and having shared values with Prague. This is probably the first time under Tsai Ing-wen that a governing entity has defied committing to the One China policy and chose human rights over economic benefits. The fact that there are hardly any institutions in this world who would chose values over promising investment and trade with China alone makes the Prague government unique in itself and a stalwart of human rights.
While Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib approached Taiwan on the ground that both nations share democratic values and respect fundamental human rights and cultural freedom, he also criticised Chinese policies in Tibet. Mayor Hrib does look like one of the Marvel characters, bold, uncompromising and a warrior in today’s international relations setting. To differ from Chinese core interest that reflect deep-rooted insecurity over its legitimacy in regions such as Tibet and Taiwan and to show support for Tibet’s cause is a bold issue.
There is an endearing relationship between Tibet and Czech that was largely influenced by the friendship between the Dalai Lama and President Vaclav Havel who first invited the spiritual leader to Czech. There is also historical memory that plays a strong role in defining people in Czech’s relation with China. Czech was part of the Eastern block during the Cold War era, which is a firsthand victim of communism and have felt the wrath of a Communist government. The analogy between Czech’s struggle under a Communist regime and present condition of Tibetans under the Chinese state has a subsequent impact.Czech’s relation with China has been unpredictable as well. During Xi Jinping’s visit to Czech in 2016, though pro-Tibet demonstrations on the street protested against Xi’s visit, the President of Czech at the time, Milos Zeman not only welcomed the Chinese leader but went on dispelling people and institutes that showed solidarity with Tibet. President Zeman began using Communist jargon in order to pair up his interests with Beijing. Such occurrence of crackdown on human rights activist and pro-Tibet demonstration has been felt most often in regions with a strong inclination towards Chinese interests at the expense of Tibetan’s rights and freedom, as noticed in Nepal in recent times. Under all these circumstances, it also brings us closer to the constant yet highly significant issues like human rights. China and many European countries have very different approach towards interpretation of the world. Both Tibet and Taiwan issue has been a major factor in playing an important role in European countries relations with China, and in this case Czech’s relation with China. With China’s economic expansion as well as political commitment, more number of countries are increasingly bandwagoning with Beijing, evidently seen with the recent Xi Jinping’s visit to Nepal and Myanmar.
China is aggressively moving towards realising Xi’s vision of a “rejuvenated China”, and its “China’s Dream” of reclaiming its supposed seat at the head of the table of nation states. Its economic and political policies is reflected in its ambitious Belt Road Initiative, the ADB, the SCO, the RECP deal and its increasing influence in the south east Asian CPTPP agreement. As the country attempts to secure its paramount position as well as securitise its internal differences with regards to Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan by receiving the acquiescence of other countries to its claims, Prague’s stand on rejecting Beijing’s political and economic clout by standing in solidarity with global norms of democracy and freedom is testament to a new approach to International Relations, one where fundamental rights of individuals and groups takes precedence over material concerns of wealth and market.
*Tenzin Lhadon is a visiting fellow of Tibet Policy Institute. She is a Ph.D scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflects those of the Tibet Policy Institute.