The Chinese Communist Party lashed out at the Czech Republic on Sunday for sending a 90-member delegation to visit Taiwan, led by Czech Senate Speaker Milos Vystrcil.
The Chinese said Vystrcil “crossed a red line” and would “pay a heavy price” for his actions. Pavel Novotny, mayor of a district in Prague, hit back on Monday by denouncing the Chinese Foreign Ministry as a gang of “unmannered rude clowns.”
Vystrcil arrived in Taiwan with his delegation last week for a five-day tour, becoming the highest-ranking Czech official ever to visit the island nation, although the government did not officially endorse his trip. He said his goal was to promote commercial ties with Taiwan and he knew Beijing would object, as it does to anything that strengthens Taiwan’s legitimacy as an independent state.
When Vystrcil addressed the Taiwanese parliament, he delivered a variation of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, declaring himself Taiwanese in his heart. His opposite number in Taipei, Parliamentary Speaker You Si-kun, responded that the visit would strengthen both the Czech-Taiwanese friendship and the cause of democracy worldwide.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen thanked Vystrcil for his visit, stressing shared “core values” and looking forward to “furthering cooperation” between Taiwan and the Czech Republic. The Taiwanese Foreign Ministry thanked Vystrcil for “putting friendship before politics” and toasted a shared commitment to “freedom, democracy, equality, and respect.”
Unsurprisingly, none of this sat well with Beijing, which reacted with such fury that even Czech politicians favorably disposed to trade with China took offense.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called Vystrcil’s visit a “provocation” against Beijing’s principle that Taiwan is an “inseparable part of China.”
Wang warned the Chinese government and people would not “sit idly by,” but would instead make Vystrcil “pay a heavy price for his short-sighted behavior and political opportunism.”
China summoned the Czech ambassador to lodge “stern representation and strong protest” against Vystrcil, who the Chinese government accused of aiding “separatists” and “anti-China forces” by interfering in “China’s domestic affairs” for personal gain.
Beijing added some threats against the rest of Europe for good measure, warning there would be dire consequences for emulating the Czech Republic and siding with Taiwan or the United States.
“I think most of the Czech people, they will respond negatively to these threats. They are probably not going to be polite,” a Czech restaurateur living in Taiwan accurately predicted to Voice of America News, suggesting that 30 years of Soviet domination made his countrymen very sensitive to perceptions of bullying.
Pavel Novotny, mayor of the Reporyje district of Prague, struck back on Monday with a heated letter to the Chinese foreign minister that he also posted on Facebook. He demanded an immediate apology from Wang, saying he should feel “ashamed” and could expect to “pay a heavy price for bullying,” turning Wang’s own language against him.
“Your behavior has substantially crossed the lines of what is diplomatically acceptable,” Novotny thundered. “You dare to threaten [our] senate chairman with ‘pay a heavy price,’ you unmannered rude clowns!”
Novotny got rather salty at the end: “Wake up. You will not shit on us. Do not let this be repeated. Send me the copy of the apology on email, so I can put it in archives and forget your pathetic diplomatic fuck up you have just made. Don’t piss me off.” He signed off by “pretending” to send his regards.
Novotny’s letter chided Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek for allegedly feeling the same way but lacking the courage to confront China because his “not very sane” boss, Czech President Milos Zeman, and his “accomplice,” Prime Minister Anrej Babis, want to curry favor with China.
But Petricek did, in fact, push back against Wang on Monday in much the same spirit as Novotny, albeit without the four-letter words and clown comparisons.
“Minister Wang’s statements are over the edge. Such strong words do not belong in the relations between the two sovereign countries,” Petricek tweeted, promising to summon the Chinese ambassador to lodge a formal complaint.
In addition to China’s bullying sensibilities about Taiwan, the backdrop for the sudden and surprisingly intense China-Czech spat includes disappointment with Chinese investments in the Czech Republic since Zeman took office in 2013 with the goal of forging closer business ties, the Czechs having second thoughts about allowing China’s Huawei to be involved with their 5G wireless network, and a warm welcome given to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in mid-August when he toured Central and Eastern Europe to warn against Chinese and Russian influence.