Milos Vystrcil, president of the Czech senate, said his plan to lead a delegation to Taiwan later this month reflects a belief in the importance of values, not only in foreign policy but as a necessary condition for achieving economic prosperity.
The delegation, which will be comprised of some 90 Czech business leaders, scientists, and senators, will visit Taiwan between Aug. 30 and Sept. 4 to promote stronger economic and technological ties between the two countries. In an interview with CNA earlier this week, Vystrcil spoke of his expectations for the trip and on the state of Czech-Taiwan relations.
Given the timing of the visit, he was eager to explain that all members of the delegation will undergo a 14-day quarantine and will have to test negative for Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) twice before departing for Taiwan. Regarding the delegation's itinerary, he said that representatives of more than 40 Czech enterprises and other members of the delegation planned to discuss collaboration on research into nano fabrics, artificial intelligence, and modern waste processing technologies.
Vystrcil said he also expects to hold broader discussions on social topics, democracy, and freedom—values which he sees as constituting "the cornerstone of prosperity." "Taiwan is a clear example of this," he continued, saying that the country's transition to democracy had gone hand-in-hand with its economic rise.
Despite these plans, Vystrčil said he had faced pressure from some in his country, including President Milos Zeman, who prioritized the financial benefits of maintaining strong relations with China. By contrast, Vystrcil said, "my view is that if we focus on money, we will lose our values and the money, too."
"I am convinced that a condition for achieving economic prosperity is keeping our values," he said, twice citing the late President Vaclav Havel during the interview. Havel became president of then Czechoslovakia in December 1989 after his Civic Forum party played a major role in the Velvet Revolution that toppled communist rule.
Since 1989, Vystrcil said, the Czech Republic has been a country advocating human rights and freedoms, and it used to use its foreign policies to try to spread and support democracy in as many countries as possible.
According to Vystrcil, the Chinese embassy also expressed its disapproval of the trip but did not threaten repercussions to Czech businesses as it had done in a letter to his predecessor Jaroslav Kubera ahead of his planned visit to Taiwan in February. Kubera died suddenly in January before being able to take the trip.
In spite of that pressure, Vystrcil described the planned visit as "an outcome and decision of parliamentary diplomacy," which won the support of 50 out of 52 senators present in a vote in May. This support, Vystrčil said, reflected the duty of a national legislature to "extend" itself into areas in which a country's foreign policy showed a "deficit."
"These days, this deficit appears in the advocacy of human rights and freedoms—the very values that we have inherited from our predecessors," he said, citing Havel. Vystrcil said general awareness of Taiwan in the Czech Republic has increased by the former's "splendid" handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also remarked that the Czech people were grateful for Taiwan's donations of personal protective equipment.
Reflecting on the similar paths of both countries in their transitions to democracy, Vystrcil said he was pleased to "finally get a chance to see the people of Taiwan, who I think have achieved a great success." When asked, Vystrcil said that, if invited, he would be happy to deliver a speech in the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's parliament, adding that it would be "an interesting opportunity" for him as a longtime parliamentarian.
As a member of the Civic Democratic Party, he was first elected to the senate in 2011 after serving as governor of the south-central Vysocina Region, mayor, and a member of the regional assembly. As for the message he would deliver to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Vystrcil said it would not be proper to say in advance, but said he believed it would leave people feeling "surprised, or perhaps satisfied."