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Czech Senate Leader Declares 'I Am a Taiwanese' in Speech to Self-Ruled Island's Parliament

Czech Senate President Milos Vystrcil delivers a speech at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan, Sept. 1. 2020.
Czech Senate President Milos Vystrcil delivers a speech at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan, Sept. 1. 2020.

The head of the Czech Republic’s Senate has openly offered support for an independent and democratic Taiwan during a visit to the self-ruled island, triggering an angry backlash from China, which was already furious about his visit.

During an address before Taiwan’s parliament Tuesday, Milos Vystrcil invoked the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s famous 1963 speech in then-West Berlin, Germany, which had become a major flashpoint of the Cold War between the United States and the Communist-run Soviet Union after East Berlin - the capital of Communist East Germany - was sealed off from the western world by the Soviets.

Using Kennedy’s now-legendary phrase “Ich bin ein Berliner,” in translation “I am a Berliner,” as an example of support of freedom and democracy, Vystrcil received a standing ovation in the legislative chamber, when he said in Mandarin Chinese that “I am a Taiwanese.”

Vystrcil’s speech, delivered two days after he arrived as part of a high-level delegation to promote diplomatic and economic ties with Taiwan, drew anger from Beijing, which considers the island a breakaway province and has worked to isolate it from the international community.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying denounced Vystrcil's speech, saying the Czech lawmaker was openly supporting Taiwan’s “separatist forces” and interfering in China’s internal affairs.

The Czech politician had already incurred Beijing’s wrath before his speech Tuesday. Foreign Minister Wang Yi declared Monday that Vystrcil would “pay a heavy price for his short-sighted behavior and political speculation.”

Although Vystrcil’s trip was not officially sanctioned by Prague, the Czech Foreign Ministry summoned China’s ambassador to protest Wang’s remarks.
China and Taiwan split after the 1949 civil war, when Mao Zedong’s Communist forces drove Chaing Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces off the mainland to settle on the island. Beijing has vowed to bring the island under its control by any means necessary, including military invasion.