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Standing up to China: Czech mayor sets a high bar

Standing up to China

A Czech mayor’s refusal to endorse Beijing’s One China policy potentially sets a high bar as Western powers grapple with how to respond to allegations of excessive use of violence by police against Hong Kong protesters and the implications of leaked documents detailing a brutal crackdown in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang. Prague mayor Zdenek Hrib rejected a sister city agreement between the Czech capital and Beijing in late October because it included a clause endorsing the One China policy, which implicitly recognizes China’s sovereignty over Taiwan, as well as Hong Kong and Tibet. Mr. Hrib argued that the agreement was a cultural arrangement and not designed to address foreign policy issues that were the prerogative of the national government. The mayor’s stance has since taken on added significance against the backdrop of US President Donald J. Trump’s signing of legislation that allows for the sanctioning of Hong Kong officials, embarrassing Communist party leaks that document repression in Xinjiang, the election of a new Sri Lankan government that intends to adopt a tougher policy towards China, and simmering anti-Chinese sentiment in Central Asia and beyond. Mr. Hrib’s rejection was in fact a reflection of anti-Chinese sentiment in the Czech Republic as well as opposition to the pro-China policy adopted by Czech president Milos Zeman. To be sure, Mr. Hrib, a 38-year old medical doctor who interned in Taiwan, was shouldering little political or economic risk given Czech public anger at China’s failure to fulfil promises of significant investment in the country. On the contrary, Mr. Hrib, since becoming mayor in mid-2018, appears to have made it his pastime to put Mr. Zeman on the spot by poking a finger at China. Mr. Hrib visited Taiwan in the first six months of his mayorship, flew the Tibetan flag over Prague’s city hall, and rejected a request by the Chinese ambassador at a meeting with foreign diplomats to send Taiwanese representatives out of the room. Beijing’s cancellation of a tour of China by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra in response to Mr. Hrib’s provocations forced Mr. Zeman to describe the Chinese retaliation as “excessive” and his foreign minister, Tomas Petricek, to declare that “diplomacy is not conducted with threats.”

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