Fri, Nov 08, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Czechs turn PRC game against it

By Joseph Bosco

Vaclav Havel, the brilliant playwright, heroic political dissident and visionary first president of liberated Czechoslovakia, consistently emphasized the moral element in international relations.

They were lessons he learned from his country’s painful history of invasion and occupation, first by Nazi Germany, then by the Soviet Union.

On Feb. 22, 1990, he delivered an address to the US Congress, which I attended. He talked of the competing pressures, especially economic ones, that impede people and governments from doing the right thing, such as resisting tyranny.

“Interests of all kinds — personal, selfish, state, nation, group and, if you like, company interests — still considerably outweigh genuinely common and global interests,” he said.

His countrymen still wrestle with the moral quandary he described, and many, if not all, carry on the noble example he set.

As the US-based National Public Radio (NPR) has reported, glorious Prague, the “City of 100 Spires,” presently is grappling with such a moral challenge, this time from China.

When he was president, Havel, having lived through the brutality of Soviet communism, was no admirer of the Chinese communist system. He proudly supported those he considered moral and political soul mates: the Dalai Lama and Chinese dissidents, which earned him no credits with Beijing.

However, Czech President Milos Zeman, a populist who took office in 2013, easily succumbed to the lure of the economic opportunities Beijing offered and entered into a series of agreements with China.

According to NPR, Zeman envisioned the Czech Republic as “China’s gateway to Europe,” and invited Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) for a state visit in 2016.

During that visit, Prague was named a “sister city” to Beijing and the agreement contained a provision endorsing Beijing’s “one China” principle asserting that Taiwan is part of China.

However, over the next few years, major projects failed under fraudulent management practices, and relations with China began to sour.

Martin Hala, a China expert at Prague’s historic Charles University, told NPR: “There’s been this backlash building up slowly. People really feel cheated. A lot of things that have been happening in relation to China have been driven by local actors.”

Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib, who once worked as a medical intern in Taiwan, demonstrated the professor’s point about local activism.

On taking office, he immediately questioned the appropriateness of Prague’s involvement in the China-Taiwan dispute.

“A sister-city agreement should not include things that are not related to the cities’ relationship,” Hrib said.

At a city assembly meeting, one member accused the mayor of meddling in the business of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, saying: “Here you are, pulling Prague into a matter of such importance.”

Before the city government could vote to excise the anti-Taiwan language from the sister-city agreement, Beijing canceled it. For good measure, it also withdrew its permission for a 12-city visit to China by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, which had spent two-and-a-half years preparing for it in what its director called “the biggest project we’ve ever had.”

Cancelation of the tour was a US$200,000 loss for the orchestra, on top of the millions of US dollars Prague already had lost from fraudulent transactions by Chinese entities when relations were good between Beijing and Prague.

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