05/13/2022, 15.05
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Prague, foreign minister says name change of Taiwan mission not on agenda

by Emanuele Scimia

The move made instead by Lithuania triggered Beijing's political and commercial retaliation. According to Jan Lipavský, relations with Taipei can thrive even without name changes. Czechs unhappy with growing trade deficit with Chinese. Prague assesses exit from China-sponsored 16+1 Forum.

Rome (AsiaNews) - A name change of the Czech Republic's representative office in Taipei, and Taiwan's representative office in Prague, is not on the two governments' agenda at this point. This was revealed to AsiaNews by Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský, debunking rumors of such an initiative by his government, taken instead last year by Lithuania.

In November, the Taiwanese government opened a mission in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius under the name "Taiwanese." The move provoked an immediate response from Beijing, which said the failure to use the name "Taipei" is a violation of the "one-China policy." The Chinese Communist Party considers the island a "rebel" province to be reunified by force if necessary. The Chinese have since zeroed out trade relations with the Lithuanians, a coercive action denounced by the European Union at the World Trade Organization.

The new Czech government, which took office in late 2021, has taken a more critical stance toward China. By closely linking the Czech Republic to the Belt and Road Initiative, the infrastructure and trade megaproject launched by Xi Jinping in 2013,  (outgoing) Czech President Milos Zeman wanted to turn his country into an "unsinkable aircraft carrier" for Chinese investment in Europe.

The first significant disagreements between Prague and Beijing date back to August 2020, when Czech Senate President Miloš Vystrčil visited Taiwan. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi responded by saying that Vystrčil would "pay dearly."

Lipavský points out that the Czech Republic has had close ties with Taiwan for decades, and that these are growing stronger: "The Czech Government has enlisted Taiwan among the priority partners in Asia, mostly because we share the same values, like democracy and protection of human rights." The same argument, he points out, applies to bilateral trade and investment, which now focus on the semiconductor industry, in which the Taiwanese are world leaders.

In an interview with Politico.EU, Lipavský said last month that Taiwan is "bullied" by China. A few days later, he met in Washington with Penpa Tsering (see photo), the leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile, sparking protests from the Chinese.

For now, the Chinese leadership has limited itself to verbal reactions with respect to Prague's change of heart. "Czechia, like many other partners in EU and elsewhere, has experienced Chinese coercion but we have no information that my interview would have an impact on our trade with China," the Czech diplomatic chief explains. He admits, however, that his government is not happy with the trade imbalance with China. Indeed, the deficit in the Czech Republic's trade with the Chinese continues to grow: it was 20.8 billion euros in 2020, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity.

As for the Czechs remaining in the 16+1, the informal forum that brings together China and 16 Central, Eastern and Southern European states, including 11 EU countries, Lipavský says Prague's future engagement is part of the ongoing review of relations with Beijing.

The 16+1, abandoned by Lithuania last year, has long been in the crosshairs of the EU, which sees it as a tool of China to divide the Union by pushing some member states to align with Chinese positions. Lipavský's judgment is the same harsh: "When we look back at what has been achieved and what the tangible benefits of our participation in 16+1 have been, we have to assess that most of our expectations have not been met."

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