December 2, 2023


LUXEMBOURG — The Czech Republic’s foreign minister said it’s time for the EU to help “bullied” democracies such as Taiwan “as much as possible,” setting the stage for more tension in an already increasingly strained relationship between Europe and Beijing.

In an interview with POLITICO, Jan Lipavský also called for greater scrutiny of whether China will support Russia’s war in Ukraine, even as Chinese diplomats in Prague dismissed the existence of an alliance between Beijing and Moscow.

Lipavský, 36, a member of the Czech Pirate Party, took office in December after being appointed by new Prime Minister Petr Fiala, vowing to shake up the cozy relationship many politicians have with Moscow and Beijing.

As one of the newest EU foreign ministers — who met in Luxembourg earlier this week — Lipavský will play a key role when the Czech Republic takes up the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU in July, which will be a crucial period during which Beijing’s exact degree of support for Moscow will be tested and watched closely.

EU’s attitude to China has hardened since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as many in Europe consider Beijing’s equivocation to be a policy of “pro-Russia neutrality.” Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin signed a “no-limits” partnership agreement just weeks before the war. Earlier this month, EU leaders warned Xi not to undercut their sanction packages against Russia by providing Moscow with military or financial backing.

According to Lipavský, Chinese diplomats have been trying to distance their country from Moscow. “My deputy had a debate with the Chinese chargé [d’affaires] in Prague, he was invited to the ministry. And this was put pretty clear right … in front of him, that we observed [the China-Russia partnership agreement]. The Chinese reaction was, in a sense, that Russia and China are not allies [but] they are partners.”

“We stated that any attempt from the Chinese side to help Russia more would have a series of severe consequences for the EU-China relationship. So I think now it’s time to really observe what is going on, the reality on the ground, and to be creating a political landscape … if China will be moving more and more towards Russia,” he said.

But what could most directly set the Czech Republic on a collision course with Beijing is its views on Taiwan. The new Czech government specifically highlighted Taiwan as one of its key Indo-Pacific partners, while Prague is preparing to introduce an Indo-Pacific strategy during its EU presidency. This kind of increasing interaction between Taipei and the West has unnerved Beijing, which sees Taiwan as a runaway province and vows to take control of it, by force if necessary.

“We understand that Taiwan is bullied by China,” Lipavský said. “Part of [our government’s vision] is that democracies in the world should hold together — and Taiwan is a democracy.”

He added: “There is more: Taiwan is one of the top investors in the Czech Republic. They have created many, many, many good industries, many workplaces, and we want to be working on this economic relationship. And, of course, we want to help them as much as possible.”

One area of cooperation, he said, could be research and innovation in semiconductors, where Taiwan is the global leader.

Last year, Lithuania’s move to deepen ties with Taiwan set off a series of diplomatic rifts between Beijing and the EU. Vilnius and Beijing lowered each other’s diplomatic status, while China mounted a de facto trade embargo against Lithuanian businesses, resulting in an EU-led case against China at the World Trade Organization.

The disputes originated from Beijing’s displeasure with the opening of a Taiwanese Representative Office in Vilnius, which they said suggested Taiwan’s sovereignty and would therefore be in breach of the “One China policy.”

Diplomatic officials said they expect that once President Miloš Zeman, who has a close relationship with Beijing, retires toward the end of this year, Prague could make a similar move to Lithuania and rename the Taipei office in Prague to “Taiwanese.”

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