TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — As a Czech delegation prepares for its high-profile trip to Taiwan at the end of August, China reportedly continues to hemorrhage influence over the Czech Republic's body politic, and opposition party members are seeking to abandon the Central European nation's extradition agreement with Hong Kong in light of that city's national security law, which many view as the final nail in the coffin of "one country, two systems."
The Czech Senate is expected to pass a resolution calling for the country to back out of the extradition treaty. Its Committee on Foreign Affairs recommended last month that the entire body draft a resolution in response to the Chinese Communist Party's violation of Hong Kong's autonomy and obstruction in its legislative processes, Czech News Agency reported.
The resolution will call China out over its about-face on the "one country, two systems" framework and its failure to adhere to the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a legally binding agreement that guarantees Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy,” the freedoms of speech and assembly, and other rights until 2047. Foreign Affairs Committee members also raised concerns over the threat that Hong Kong's sweeping new security law poses to the rights and due process of Czechs theoretically prosecuted in the special administrative region.
Hong Kong's national security law, which entered force on July 1, imposes harsh penalties for the broad, vaguely defined crimes of "subversion," "secession," "collusion with a foreign power," and "terrorism." In the weeks since, Hongkongers have been arrested for a range of offenses, from being active in the local democracy movement to carrying homemade pro-independence signs.
Democracy activist Agnes Chow arrested under contentious new law by Hong Kong's national security unit Aug. 10. (Reuters photo)
Of particular concern to the international community is Article 38 of the law, which clearly states that it applies to everyone, with any individual — Hong Kong resident or not — subject to prosecution for an offense committed anywhere in the world.
Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek, who attended the committee meeting, was asked whether individuals who have demonstrated against Beijing are at risk for extradition under the security law. He replied that the country had never and would not cooperate with extradition requests over actions that are legal within Czech borders.
Jan Lipavsky, a Czech Pirate Party MP in the Parliament's Chamber of Deputies, applauded the move. He told Taiwan News that he is taking similar steps to get the ball rolling in the lower house's Foreign Affairs Committee, of which he is vice-chair. However, he said it was unlikely President Milos Zeman's more China-friendly coalition government would get behind it.
Czech Pirate Party legislator Jan Lipavsky (Flickr, Pirátská strana photo)
Describing his party as one of the "most outspoken supporters of Hong Kong, Taiwan and other smaller democracies bullied by their bigger, autocratic neighbour," Lipavsky said the party is prepared to pressure the government to "act in accordance with the democratic values and support Hong Kong to any capacity."
Founded in 2009, the Czech Pirate Party has proven to be a thorn in China's side. Among its ranks is Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib, who made headlines last year for rejecting China’s request to exclude the Taiwanese representative from a ministry meeting.
The 39-year-old mayor also terminated the Czech capital’s sister-city relationship with Beijing after the latter insisted on rewording their agreement to acknowledge the "one China policy." The Czech people now err on the side of skepticism when it comes to China , according to a Pew Research poll published late last year. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, more than twice as many Czechs viewed the world's second-largest economy unfavorably (57 percent) as favorably (27 percent).
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (left), Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib ink sister-city agreement in January. (Taipei City Government photo)
Against the backdrop of the pandemic, the crackdown in Hong Kong, and the increasingly domineering tack China has taken in its dealings with other governments, the Prague mayor is joining Czech Senate President Milos Vystrcil on a delegation to Taiwan at the end of the month.
Vystrcil's predecessor had planned a similar trip, earning him harassment by Chinese government officials. But he died of a heart attack earlier this year.
Czech President Zeman’s administration has generally been among the warmest in Europe toward Beijing — and more muted in its criticisms. Nevertheless, there appears to be a gradual shift in tone even among once vocal proponents of robust Czech-Chinese ties.
Zeman in January announced his intention to skip the annual "17+1." The now-postponed summit between China and 16 Central and Eastern European formerly countries was to be hosted by Chinese leader Xi Jinping (習近平).
In a calculated snub, the Czech head of state said he would send the deputy prime minister in his stead, citing Beijing’s failure to live up to its promises, South China Morning Post reported: “I’m talking about investments. And that means even though a prominent political figure will be there, it won’t be the president.”
When Xi paid a visit to the Czech Republic in 2016 during Zeman's first term, the Chinese strongman pledged investment would follow. The intervening years have seen a modest uptick in foreign direct investment (FDI) in Central and Eastern Europe, but this was only a drop in the bucket compared to the amount China has poured into larger Western European economies.
Xi Jinping (left) with Czech President Milos Zeman in Prague in March 2016. (AP photo)
In 2019, for instance, Czechia, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia together received just 3 percent of Chinese FDI on the continent, according to a Rhodium Group report. Moreover, between 2000 and 2019, the Czech Republic saw just €1 billion (NT$34.84 billion) in Chinese FDI, while the U.K., Germany, and France got infusions totaling €50.3 billion, €22.7 billion, and €14.4 billion, respectively.
The program director of the Central European Institute of Asian Studies, Richard Q. Turcsanyi, told Taiwan News that he doubts there are any lingering hopes for meaningful Chinese investment in the Czech Republic. "During the 'golden years' of 2013-2017, only a small amount of Chinese FDI came," he said, some of which was "problematic." "This led to general disappointments . . . those few remaining proponents of further engagements with China were outbalanced by the growing opposition."
As for the extradition agreement with Hong Kong, Turcsanyi anticipates that the Czech Republic will ultimately withdraw. Several countries, including the "Five Eyes" nations of the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, have terminated or halted plans to sign extradition treaties with Hong Kong since the implementation of the national security law. As more follow suit, chances are Prague will be emboldened to take the same step, the academic forecast.
He cited a general souring toward China in the political and public spheres, due in part to human rights issues such as its treatment of Hong Kong. He added that beyond the investment issue, "China is seen as an unreliable partner and even a security problem."
Turcsanyi concluded that the upcoming delegation to Taiwan is mostly symbolic, undertaken to demonstrate to a domestic audience the Senate leader's resolve to stand up to China and differentiate himself from the ruling coalition.