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'I am Taiwanese': Top Czech official angers China in Taipei

September 1, 2020

The Czech Senate President Milos Vystrcil made the controversial comments during a speech while visiting the self-governed island. The statement was welcomed by Taiwanese lawmakers but will likely anger China further.

Milos Vystrcil
Image: Reuters/A. Wang

"I am Taiwanese," said Czech Senate leader Milos Vystrcil during a speech to Taiwan's lawmakers in  Taipei on Tuesday, a move that drew swift ire from Beijing. 

The phrase used by Vystrcil evokes a famous speech by US President John F Kennedy during a Cold War trip to West Berlin in 1963.

The Czech official's comments prompted further backlash from China. During a visit to Germany's capital Berlin on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the Senate president's trip to Taiwan amounts to "crossing a red line."

Beijing had already condemned the trip on Monday.

Taiwan has had an independent government since 1949, but China views it as its own territory. China reacts strongly to attempts by foreign governments to recognize or conduct official exchanges with Taipei.

Milos Vystrcil
Czech Senate President Milos Vystrcil receives a medal before delivering a speech to Taiwanese lawmakers Image: Reuters/A. Wang

'Ich bin ein Berliner'

Vystrcil said Kennedy "used the phrase 'Ich bin ein Berliner' to show his support for the people of Berlin and the highest values of freedom."

"Maybe I can be more humble but allow me to use the same determined phrase to conclude my speech in your country's parliament, in Taiwan — I am Taiwanese," concluded Vystrcil.

The final phrase — delivered in Mandarin — was met with a standing ovation from Taiwanese lawmakers.

Heightened tensions

Vystrcil is heading up a 90-member delegation of Czech civic and political leaders to Taipei, the largest-ever Czech delegation visiting Taiwan since the European country became democratic in 1989, ending Communist rule.

Vystrcil maintains the trip is to promote business links and said he would not give in to Chinese objections.

On Monday, Beijing warned that Vystrcil would pay "a heavy price" for the visit. In response, the Czech Republic's Foreign Ministry said it would summon China's envoy to Prague.

Relations between China and the Czech Republic were already strained, when earlier this year the city of Prague signed a partnership agreement with Taipei that prompted Shanghai to cut ties as a sister city.

kmm/stb (AFP, Reuters)