Czech Senate speaker leaves for Taiwan visit, angering China

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The head of the Czech Senate travelled to Taiwan on Saturday for a rare trip by a senior foreign official that has angered China, which considers the island a breakaway province ineligible for state-to-state relations.

Senate speaker Milos Vystrcil said his visit would promote business links with Taiwan, and that the Czech Republic would not bow to Beijing’s objections.

“You cannot accept being someone’s servant, because if you do, then when you obey once, it’s assumed that you obey every time,” Vystrcil told Reuters ahead of the trip.

Vystrcil said his visit underscored the “values-based” foreign policy put in place by late President Vaclav Havel, an anti-communist dissident and personal friend of the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama.

The delegation is due to meet President Tsai Ing-wen and other top officials in Taiwan, where strict coronavirus measures will be observed during the meetings.

For Taiwan, the Czech visit is a welcome sign of support amid growing tensions with China.

“Taiwan and the Czech Republic both share the universal values of democracy, freedom and human rights,” Johnson Chiang, head of the European Affairs Office at Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry’s, told reporters this week.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar went to Taiwan in the highest-level visit by a U.S. official in four decades.

Vystrcil’s trip has further complicated relations between China and the EU country.

Czech President Milos Zeman has sought closer business and political ties with China since taking office in 2013, but his efforts have been hit by failed investment plans and Czech wavering about allowing China’s Huawei Technologies to play a role in developing next-generation telecoms networks.

China warned of possible consequences for Czech companies with Chinese operations when Vystrcil’s predecessor started planning a trip to the self-ruled island.

“Such a visit is deliberately undermining the political foundation between China and the Czech Republic, we condemn such a despicable act,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Thursday.

Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in BEIJING and Ben Blanchard in TAIPEI; Writing by Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller; Editing by Helen Popper