The new Czech President-elect Petr Pavel broke established diplomatic protocol Monday by accepting a direct phone call from Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen, the first European leader to do so. This direct acknowledgement of Taiwanese sovereignty comes in the aftermath of increased tension between the island and China, and Pavel’s hawkish stance towards China on the campaign trail. Pavel was elected last week on an independent pro-NATO platform.
Speaking with Czech news site Reflex, Pavel explained his rationale for taking the 15-minute call despite EU leaders preferring to deal with Taiwan indirectly to avoid economic repercussions from China’s ruling CCP.
I don’t see it as a controversy. I see this as an unequivocal expression of the fact that we are a sovereign country and we can indeed behave as we see fit, according to our rules.
Pavel also cited the Czech Republic’s economic ties with Taiwan and shared democratic values as further reasons for accepting the call.
Earlier this month, Pavel, a former NATO official and chief general of the Czech armed forces, conducted a 45-minute video call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Throughout the campaign, Pavel has taken an anti-CCP stance stating that China should be viewed as more of a security risk than an economic ally. This is a substantial departure from the conciliatory approach taken by current Czech President Miloš Zeman.
Pavel’s foreign policy advisor Petr Kolář became one of the first Western officials to formally visit Taiwan in 2020, with economists judging Taiwan to be more important to the Czech Republic than mainland China.
The president-elect also took a call from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who congratulated Pavel on his recent electoral victory and commitment to the Ukrainian wartime cause. Pavel is a vocal champion of Ukraine’s accession to the EU and has stated his intention to make a case for Kyiv to join the bloc in diplomatic trips across Eastern Europe before his inauguration.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson responded to the move by saying that Pavel had stepped over Beejing’s ‘red line’ on the matter. Politico reported Tuesday that Beijing has been attempting to dissuade Pavel from making the call since the election. In 2011, Beijing issued economic sanctions against Lithuania for its increasing economic ties with Taiwan.
The Czech Republic, in line with the rest of the EU, currently follows the ‘One China’ policy that refuses to formally acknowledge the independence of Taiwan, designating the Beijing government as the de facto sole sovereign for the island.
Recently, relations between Taiwan and the Czech Republic have warmed up, with the Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn becoming a significant employer and strategic asset to the Czech Republic.
The phone call has been compared to a similar move made by then-President-elect Donald Trump in the aftermath of his electoral victory in 2016. Pavel will take office on the 9th of March this year.