Taipei and Prague have grown closer due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the political situation regarding China, Czech Senator Jiri Drahos said in an interview as he reflected on his 30 years of contact with Taiwan.
His initial connection with Taiwan dates back to the late 1980s, when he made contact with then-National Taiwan University professor Richard Lee (李紹林) about contributing to an international conference that Lee was chairing, Drahos said in an online interview with the Taipei Times.
There are not many people in the Czech Republic who have maintained contact with Taiwan for more than 30 years, he said.
Photo courtesy of Science and Technology Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Prague
Czechs in general have quite positive attitudes toward Taiwan, and those have become even better since Taiwan sent medical supplies to help them combat COVID-19 and Czech Senate Speaker Milos Vystrcil led a delegation to visit Taiwan in August, Drahos said.
Prague and Taipei are both struggling with maintaining their democracies, and both face pressure from a “Big Brother,” which for the Czechs has been the former Soviet Union and now Russia.
“Our democracy is still quite young and quite frail in some sense, even after 30 years from the Velvet Revolution, which was our turning point,” the 71-year-old senator said when asked to describe the Czech Republic’s current political and social atmosphere.
The fragility is noticeable amid the country’s struggles to contain the pandemic, he said.
Unlike Taiwan, the pandemic situation in the Czech Republic is getting worse, and various measures implemented by the government have sometimes been chaotic, he said.
The Czech Republic in April signed a cooperation agreement with Taiwan on fighting the pandemic, making it the first European country to do so.
Asked if the pandemic has brought Taipei and Prague closer, Drahos said both sides would be happier if their affinity was not driven by the pandemic.
It is true that “both COVID-19 and the political situations with respect to China and Chinese attempts to influence the situation here brought us in much closer and friendly contacts with Taiwan,” otherwise the evolution would have been much slower, he said.
Drahos had planned visit to Taiwan last month, but his trip was put off until next spring, due to the pandemic.
Promoting bilateral exchanges in epidemiology was one of the goals of his trip, said Drahos, who has voiced support for Taiwan’s bid to join the WHO.
He assembled several high-profile experts for his delegation, which would be made up of 10 or 11 people, including top epidemiologist Rastislav Madar — who served as an adviser to former Czech minister of health Adam Vojtech — and Jan Kovalinka, a top Czech virologist and vice rector of Charles University in Prague, he said.
Boosting Taipei-Prague cooperation in cybersecurity was another goal, he said, adding that both sides are expected to exchange knowledge and experience through institutions dealing with cybersecurity issues.
“I’m very glad that the contract for building 5G infrastructure in my country has been assigned finally to Ericsson and not to [China’s] Huawei [Technologies Co],” he said, referring to Czech telecoms network operator CETIN’s decision last month to choose the Swedish multinational to build the country’s 5G networks.
Choosing Huawei was widely believed to pose a big security risk for the Czech Republic, Drahos said, echoing the US’ call for its allies to boycott Huawei equipment, even though Czech President Milos Zeman had welcomed Huawei’s participation.
Asked if the Czech Republic should side with the US in security issues, Drahos said that the US is a much more important partner for the Czech Republic than either China or Russia.
He emphasized his country’s membership in the EU and NATO, saying “the NATO is critically important for our security, and the US is the dominant or very strong partner within NATO.”
Drahos said he was glad to see US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stress the importance of allied ties and support more cooperation with Taiwan during his address in August to the Czech Senate.
Asked how he would interpret his country’s “one China” policy, the senator said he is not a member of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and that his planned visit to Taiwan is not aimed at resolving “one China” politics.
Nevertheless, the Czech Republic fully understands the situation in Taiwan and Taiwan’s effort to remain a democratic and free country, he said.
Asked about Taiwanese Cheng Yu-chin (鄭宇欽), who Chinese media last month said had worked as a spy for Taiwan against China in the Czech Republic, Drahos said local universities had become more cautious about Chinese influence following a scandal over the Czech-Chinese Centre at Charles University.
The university closed the center last year after some of its faculty were found to have received payments from the Chinese embassy in Prague for helping organize conferences.
Czech universities have become more cautious about admitting Chinese students, even though not every Chinese student has tasks from the Chinese government, the senator said.
However, the same kind of problem did not occur with students from the EU, the US, South America, Taiwan or other countries, he added.
As a member of the Czech Senate Committee on Education, Science, Culture, Human Rights and Petitions, Drahos said he hoped to promote personnel exchanges between his nation and Taiwan, not just among universities, but in lower levels of education.
Taiwan is now an attractive destination for Czech students and teachers, he added.
Drahos served as president of the Czech Academy of Sciences for eight years before he ran as an independent candidate in the 2018 Czech presidential election against Zeman, winning 48.6 percent of the vote, just 2.7 percent less Zeman, who was seeking re-election.
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