Mayor of Prague: Beijing's influence is ‘overestimated’
Zdeněk Hřib targeted for having twinned with Taipei and supporting Tibetan dissidents. “No cost” for my commitment to Taiwan and Tibet. China is an “unreliable” trading partner. Alarm raised over Chinese lobbying campaigns in Europe. Xi Jinping embarrassed at the “17 + 1” summit.
Taipei (AsiaNews) - China’s power to inflict economic damage on my country for my support of Taiwan and the Tibetan cause has been largely “overestimated,” and I “have not paid any personal cost,” claims Zdeněk Hřib in a recent interview with the Czech study center Sinopsis.
The mayor of Prague dismisses the threats with which Beijing seeks to intimidate foreign authorities and politicians who engage with Taipei and Tibetan dissidents.
In January 2020, Hřib concluded a twinning agreement with the Taiwanese capital. Three months earlier, after the Chinese authorities refused to remove a clause on recognizing the island as part of Communist China, he ended a similar relationship with the Beijing municipality. The Czech politician was also targeted by the Chinese government for having invited Lobsang Sangay, the head of the Tibetan government in exile, to Prague.
According to the mayor of Prague, China is an "unreliable" trading partner that has not kept its promises on investments in the Czech Republic. They are those linked to the Belt and Road Initiative, Xi Jinping's infrastructure plan to make his country the hub of world trade. In any case, Hřib argues, engagement against human rights violations in China is more important than economic gains.
Hřib adds his own country has not suffered any setbacks for his August trip to Taiwan. In retaliation, Beijing cancelled the purchase order for some pianos, which were then bought by a Chinese private individual. The Chinese government reaction to the Czech delegation visit to the “rebel province” struck European public opinion deeply. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Czech Senate President Miloš Vystrčil would “pay dearly” for it.
For Hřib, Czech society must be on high alert. He recalled the scandal caused by the discovery that a Czech billionaire was funding a pro-China public relations campaign in exchange for commercial benefits.
More and more Eastern European countries, courted by Beijing as a partner for the new Silk Roads, are distancing themselves from the Asian giant. At the annual summit of the 17 + 1 group, which was held in online on February 9, six European Union member states were represented by second-level government officials: for many observers, it was a slap in the face to Xi Jinping. The 17 + 1 consists of China and 16 countries of central and eastern Europe, 12 of which belong to the EU.
Despite Xi's promises to increase food imports from the region, simplify customs controls and make Chinese coronavirus vaccine available, most of Europe's 17 + 1 nations are dissatisfied with relations with Beijing. They point out that Chinese investments, rather than growing, have declined, while the trade deficit with the Asian partner has widened.