The Chinese embassy in the Czech Republic threatened retaliation against Czech companies if its Senate chair went through with a planned visit to Taiwan, according to a letter viewed this week by Czech and international media.
The threat is the latest action in a pattern of Chinese government backlash toward political, business. and academic figures from around the world who engage with Taiwan or its government, either by visiting Taiwan or by supporting Taiwanese social, cultural, or political causes that Beijing sees as contradicting its claim of sovereignty over the country.
The Chinese embassy reportedly sent a letter dated January 10 to the Czech presidential office to express concerns over plans by the late Senate chair Jaroslav Kubera to visit Taiwan as part of a business delegation.
The letter said that “China is the largest foreign market for many Czech companies like Skoda Auto, Home Credit Group, Klaviry Petrof and others.” It added that Czech companies doing business in China “will have to pay for Chairman Kubera’s visit to Taiwan.”
The letter was translated from Czech to English by Sinopsis, a project analyzing relations between the Czech Republic and China.
Kubera – who died unexpectedly of cardiac arrest on January 20 – was the second-most senior Czech official after President Milos Zeman, whose office added comments and forwarded the message to the Senate chair. According to Sinopsis, the letter was found in Kubera’s office, indicating that he likely received it.
Zeman, who favors warmer ties with Beijing, has sparred in the past with other Czech government officials who have displayed warmth toward Taiwan.
In October, Prague Mayor Zdenek Hřib canceled a sister city agreement with Beijing and established a new one with Taipei. Hřib said in January that Beijing had insisted on a “one China policy” to be included in the pact, something which he would not accept. Prague’s decision to sign a sisterhood pact with Taipei was seen as a challenge to Zeman, who has often called for closer ties between the Czech Republic and China.
Beijing also canceled a tour of China last September by Prague’s Philharmonic Orchestra, a move widely interpreted as retaliation for Prague’s refusal to accept a “one China policy.”
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je visited Prague in January to sign a partnership agreement between the two cities, just days after the letter from the Chinese embassy was allegedly sent to Zeman’s office.
But the Czech Republic is far from the only country to become ensnared in a growing practice by Chinese overseas missions to insist that foreign institutions accept Beijing’s idea of a “one China policy.”
In 2018, Spain’s University of Salamanca canceled a planned Taiwan cultural program after the Chinese embassy in Madrid sent an email to the university insisting that it not hold the event. The letter was forwarded to the Spanish government, after which the event was canceled without a reason being publicly given.
“Many visiting Chinese scholars research at the University of Salamanca and many Chinese students also study there,” that letter read, adding that the event “would affect the University’s good relations with China.”
Shiany Perez-Cheng, the Taiwan Studies lecturer who had spent months planning the event, told me in 2018 she had been surprised by the tone of the email. “For me, as I interpreted it, it’s a threat,” she said.
Beijing has also warned global politicians they would be banned from entering China should they visit Taiwan. In October, U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney said China had denied visas to a bipartisan congressional delegation that planned to visit both China and Taiwan. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Maloney said Chinese officials had “demanded that I issue a statement endorsing Beijing’s version of the ‘one China policy.’”
The letter sent to the Czech Republic explicitly noted that other politicians had been barred from entering China after visiting Taiwan. “Jacques Brotchi, the then Chairman of the Belgian Senate, who visited Taiwan in May 2019, has already resigned from his office and received a lifetime ban from entering China,” the letter read.
The letter also falsely claimed that other Western countries, including the United States, “abide by the One-China policy” and do not allow top officials to visit Taiwan.
The United States does not agree with Beijing’s interpretation of a “one China policy” and has never recognized Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. When the U.S. established ties with Beijing in 1979, it agreed to recognize the People’s Republic of China as “the sole legal government of China,” but insisted on only acknowledging the PRC’s stance that Taiwan is a part of China. Washington took no formal position on the question of Taiwan sovereignty, a stance which has persevered to this day.
In 2018, the U.S. Congress unanimously passed the Taiwan Travel Act, which recommends that the U.S. government “allow officials at all levels of the United States Government, including Cabinet-level national security officials, general officers, and other executive branch officials, to travel to Taiwan to meet their Taiwanese counterparts” as well as allowing Taiwan’s top officials to enter the United States. The bill was signed into law in March of the same year by President Donald Trump.