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Czech Senate President Milos Vystrcil on China, Taiwan, and the 16+1 – The Diplomat


In late August 2020, President of the Czech Senate Milos Vystrcil made headlines by making an official journey to Taiwan, regardless of harsh rebukes and even threats from China. That transfer got here amid a broader development of skepticism towards China among the many international locations of Central and Jap Europe. Two years later, China’s unwillingness to sentence Russia’s ongoing struggle in opposition to Ukraine has solely additional solidified the area’s suspicions of Beijing.

The Czech Senate president lately visited Washington, D.C., for bilateral conferences. The Diplomat’s Shannon Tiezzi held a digital assembly with Vystrcil to debate his journey to Taiwan, China-Czechia relations, and transatlantic cooperation on the Indo-Pacific. The interview, performed through a translator, has been calmly edited for readability.

I’d wish to get your ideas on China’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Beijing is broadly seen as supporting Russia, not less than rhetorically. How has that impacted China’s picture within the Czech Republic?

First, I believe that the scenario at present with China is that it needs to and endeavors to take care of a strategic partnership with Russia, therefore it’s reasonably supporting the Russian aggression in Ukraine. However however, it is usually being a bit cautious as a result of China needs to take care of its enterprise hyperlinks with the free and democratic world, in order that they must watch out what they do. It’s typically mentioned that the Chinese language are attacking with a sword on mortgage, so they’re making an attempt to play it on either side.

Has public opinion within the Czech Republic towards China modified due to China’s stance on this struggle? 

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The general public opinion within the Czech Republic has by no means been in favor of China, so on this respect nothing a lot has modified. Quite the opposite, the place of China towards the Russian aggression in Ukraine has confirmed that China is a totalitarian nation, which at all times follows its personal curiosity and acts by itself greatest pursuits.

I believe that each the residents within the Czech Republic in addition to these in Europe have gotten used to the comparatively low-cost Chinese language merchandise which you could purchase and use. And on this respect, these items are nonetheless available within the Czech Republic, and it’s not just like the Czechs or every other nation will truly be boycotting purchases within the outlets or shops.

What do you suppose is the way forward for the Czech Republic’s participation within the 16+1 initiative? The decrease home’s overseas affairs committee advisable that Czechia depart the grouping.

Properly, that is after all a subject that turns into much more topical lately. We are literally discussing this challenge on the Senate degree, in addition to in the middle of our conferences with the congressmen and senators right here in the USA of America. Personally, I contemplate the 16+1 format to be non-functional, as a result of it was a format that was launched by China solely to extend its affect on this a part of the world.

If we have been to go away the format, I’d strongly be in favor of truly coordinating and discussing this transfer, as a result of if we do it on a person foundation there’s a excessive threat of the truth that China will retaliate, as a result of it at all times does. If we have been to go away it in a bigger group, it could be extra vital.

Have there been any discussions towards that finish?

Sure, there have been discussions. However I believe until we now have an settlement there isn’t any want to truly talk that and current that to most of the people, as a result of as I mentioned it requires a totally thought-out collection of actions that have to be taken. And furthermore, we will need to have not solely the 1st step ready, but in addition we now have to organize step two, step three, and all the next steps.

You talked about the specter of retaliation from China, which is one thing I wished to debate as effectively. China threatened that you’d “pay a heavy worth” – that’s a quote – in your go to to Taiwan.  What actions did China truly soak up response? Do you are feeling like there was a “heavy worth” to pay?

I before everything felt the strain from the Chinese language aspect previous to my go to to Taiwan. This was within the type of me being truly warned, if you’ll, to not take footage in entrance of the Taiwanese flag. Moreover, I used to be instructed that the director of my workplace, the chief of workers, shouldn’t give interviews in regards to the plan of action and the occasions which have unfolded round my predecessor within the place of the president of the Senate, Mr. Kubera, and that we should always not reward Taiwan for delivering us medical tools in the middle of the COVID disaster.

After having returned from Taiwan, I didn’t really feel any strain on a private degree. In fact, in the case of the bilateral relations between the Individuals’s Republic of China and the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, for instance, our relationships are at a principally zero level. There are not any contacts, no actions.

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I believe one of many causes I’ve not felt the strain after my return from Taiwan was the truth that your complete democratic world had truly stood up for us and stood up behind our mission to Taiwan as soon as we have been threatened by the Individuals’s Republic of China that we “pays a heavy worth.” This help was obtained from Germany, France, Slovakia, and clearly we have been having fun with the long-term help of the USA on this respect as effectively, because the Czech Republic authorities. I believe it was truly this sturdy kind of motion, worldwide motion and response that prevented the implications.

However, this definitely doesn’t imply that the Chinese language have forgotten or won’t do something.

Out of your perspective, why was it vital so that you can go to Taiwan? You talked about in an interview that it was in Czechia’s nationwide curiosity. Are you able to clarify precisely what pursuits you noticed being fulfilled by forging this connection? 

Initially, I believe that each man, and a politician specifically, shouldn’t succumb to blackmail. You must do no matter you consider is definitely true. In fact, I wished to do that as a result of that is alongside the traditions and ideas the Czech Republic stood for already within the instances of Tomas Masaryk, the primary president, after which the ideas that have been bolstered by Vaclav Havel. And that goes alongside the strains that our nation will at all times help different international locations which can be free, democratic, and respect human rights.

In fact, I commented on that after I mentioned that we are going to both “depend the pennies or get up for the values.” And I at all times advocate for standing up for values as a substitute of counting pennies.

The second motive why it was vital to go was the truth that, as I’ve mentioned, we should not enable anybody to blackmail us or the threaten us. In different phrases, we should have the ability to hold our backs straight. In historical past, there have been moments after we kind of took a bow in entrance of those kind of pressures and it didn’t repay, as a result of this isn’t the way in which you construct a powerful and proud nation, this isn’t a method to construct morale, so we have to be able to constructing a proud nation that may stand as much as these challenges.

And that is truly precisely within the strains of your query, “why was it in Czechia’s nationwide curiosity?” As a result of, so as to add, the scenario and expertise from 1938 and 1968 when our nation didn’t hold its again straight has left a deep scar in our society, and we should always not make this scar even deeper. Quite the opposite.

The third motive why it was essential to go was the financial motive. Taiwan is a complicated nation with loads on supply within the areas of financial cooperation, commerce and alternate, schooling, analysis and improvement, expertise switch and alternate, after which the sensible economic system. So there may be definitely one thing that must be constructed on, and we’re persevering with cooperation that was began in the middle of this go to.

These have been the three important causes, to summarize that. However clearly, then there was this component of my predecessor within the capability of the president of the Senate, the late Jaroslav Kubera. And I believed it could be good, if the Senate and the Senate president began one thing, it could at all times be good to truly full it as a result of we have to preserve the continuity. So was reasonably the emotional a part of the explanation.

[Editor’s note: Former Senate President Kubera passed away in January 2020, as he was making preparations for a visit to Taiwan.]

You spoke at size about China’s “blackmail” and retaliation. I need to communicate just a little bit about Lithuania, which has been affected by financial coercion over its personal strikes on Taiwan. Do you are feeling that the democratic world has supplied sufficient help to Lithuania within the face of Chinese language strain?

It didn’t, truly, in my view. It didn’t obtain sufficient help. We ought to be extra supportive, we should always present extra solidarity towards Lithuania. But it surely goes again to what I’ve mentioned, which is that any such transfer and gesture towards China must be effectively thought out and deliberate and coordinated with different international locations. As a result of you have got to remember that China, as a financial superpower, it’s very sturdy when it comes to its economic system and sadly – and I underline the phrase “sadly” –  there are too many merchandise and uncooked supplies from China that we can not do with out at this second in time. That is very unlucky. So we have to coordinate higher on this respect.

With respect to Lithuania, we should always truly help it additionally from the financial perspective. We should always truly be shopping for the merchandise which were banned from being offered in China and we should always present extra help to Lithuania. We’re definitely not doing every thing we will on this respect.

Does the instance of Lithuania change the outlook for Czechia to pursue nearer ties with Taiwan? 

I believe that it simply confirmed us and proved to us once more how unreliable a enterprise companion a totalitarian nation is, as a result of it’s utilizing the financial instrument that ought to be dependent and be negotiated between enterprise companions, between producer and exporters, however China is utilizing it for attaining its political pursuits. So the Chinese language resolution with respect to Lithuania confirmed my conviction that the way in which we’re headed in, meaning cooperation with Taiwan, the USA of America, the international locations of the Indo-Pacific area, in addition to  deepened cooperation between the EU member states, is the right path to take when it comes to decreasing our dependency on China in the case of provides of sure materials and merchandise.

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You talked about cooperation with the USA, and clearly, you’re right here in Washington, D.C., for conferences along with your U.S. counterparts. How a lot coordination is there between Czechia and the USA on China points, and on Taiwan specifically?

I can share one thing with you, however I definitely can not let you know every thing.

Definitely I can let you know that that I mentioned it with our counterparts each within the Senate in addition to Congress, and we additionally met with the counselor of the State Division, Mr. [Derek] Chollet. And it’s one thing that I’ve consulted on with the prime minister of the Czech Republic, Mr. [Petr] Fiala.

It goes in hand with the truth that the Czech Republic will assume the presidency of the EU Council as of the primary of July this 12 months, and one of many priorities shall be to bolster transatlantic hyperlinks between Europe and the U.S. One of many points that we’re discussing with our counterparts right here is, how can the Czech Republic contribute to the truth that the EU will get extra concerned within the actions within the Indo-Pacific area normally.

The second factor we’re addressing within the talks is rising our protection capabilities, together with deliveries of army materiel.

And the third space of the dialogue revolves round deepening our bilateral relations within the type of private visits that may enable for extra alternate of opinions and cooperation. .

Clearly I do admit there may be lot behind these broad statements, however I can not touch upon these any additional.

Typically talking, do you are feeling like there’s lots of convergence between the place of your self, and in addition extra broadly the Czech authorities, and the place of your counterparts in the USA on China? 

I believe you may summarize it this fashion: Following our conferences with Counselor Chollet, following our negotiations and conferences with the chairman of the [Senate] International Relations Committee, Mr. Menendez, and following our assembly with Senator Ted Cruz yesterday [June 6], and we shall be assembly extra of our counterparts at present, up to now we now have at all times confirmed our attitudes towards the Individuals’s Republic of China. And we additionally agreed on the truth that China will symbolize the only largest drawback within the years to come back when it comes to politics.

And in addition we agreed on our positions with respect to Ukraine, and we agreed on the truth that it’s needed and paramount to proceed to help Ukraine in an effort to defeat the Russian aggression.

The USA’ attitudes towards China are broadly shared among the many totally different political events. Is there a divide within the Czech Republic between the political events? I observed that President Zeman was fairly essential of your journey to Taiwan. Is there disagreement inside Czechia’s political events on tips on how to greatest strategy China?

As for the place of the Czech authorities and the Czech Parliament, following the final election within the autumn of final 12 months, there may be basic settlement.

So far as President Zeman is worried, it’s true that he was very a lot in opposition to me visiting Taiwan and stepping up for the case of defending democracy and freedom in Taiwan. And that is reasonably on a light-weight notice, I’ve to say that I can’t get my head round his precise positions in the mean time. He would at all times check with the coverage of a number of instructions, however I believe that he now applies this coverage to himself personally. As a result of following his quite a few statements in help of Russia and Mr. Putin’s insurance policies, he unexpectedly turned a staunch help of President Zelenskyy [of Ukraine]. I’m nonetheless removed from being positive whether or not or not his inside transformation has additionally included his opinion on China, with respect to its help towards Russia.

So, in different phrases, I haven’t had a chance to ask him about that, however I believe that the arrow on his compass is on the transfer, if you’ll. So we are going to see.

We’ve spoken fairly a bit about China and Taiwan. You additionally talked about different companions within the Indo-Pacific for the Czech Republic to have interaction with. Which international locations do you suppose are a very powerful to deepen relations with?

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Definitely, on high of Taiwan, our focus would come with international locations resembling Korea and Japan, as a result of I believe these are in all probability a very powerful companions for us in your complete Indo-Pacific area. And personally, I’m very a lot impressed by the perspective and place of Japan, which was a pleasant shock.

There’s lots of focus paid to India within the U.S. in the mean time. Is {that a} companion that Czechia can also be eager about pursuing relations with?

Definitely India is a companion for us, however versus the Individuals’s Republic of China, with which we now have an settlement on strategic investments, we would not have this doc in place for India. However, we should always take note of India. We should always dedicate our efforts to increase cooperation and we have to, moreover, make it possible for India is a rustic that may cooperate with different nations whereas understanding that the Individuals’s Republic of China and Russia usually are not dependable companions to do enterprise with.

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