The warm reception given to Czech senate president Milos Vystrcil in Taipei just over a week ago has dramatically cooled after he has since denied saying that Taiwan was an independent country, triggering debate among Taiwanese netizens over whether it was worth inviting him, particularly given the island’s donation of 100,000 surgical masks and five mask production lines to his country.
In late August, Vystrcil led an 89-member delegation of Czech civic and political leaders to Taipei, the largest-ever Czech delegation to Taiwan since his country became democratic in 1989, ending Communist rule.
His visit was cordially welcomed by the island and in one speech he made the remark “Wo Shi Taiwan Ren” (I am Taiwanese) that won the hearts of Taiwanese who were moved by his love and support.
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But once he was back home Vystrcil said during a CNN TV interview on September 6 that he had never called Taiwan an independent state.
Czech President Milos Zeman, who opts for closer ties with Beijing, said during an interview with CNN Prima on September 6 that Vystrcil did not respect the majority opinion of senior officials in the Czech Republic and had jeopardised domestic firms by making them subject to potential Chinese retaliation.
Zeman accused the Senate speaker of a “boyish provocation” for visiting Taiwan as the government sought to calm China’s anger over the trip and said Vystrcil would no longer be invited to foreign policy briefings.
Vystrcil said: “President Zeman lied three times … We never discussed whether I should go to Taiwan or meeting officials there. We never voted on it, and I never called Taiwan an independent state.”
Vystrcil’s Taiwan visit from August 30 to September 4 attracted international attention because the trip was greeted with fury by mainland China which considers the island its territory, subject to eventual union by force if needed.
When Vystrcil denied that he had called Taiwan an independent state, it caused hurt on the island.
Through social media and media chat rooms, local netizens heaped scorn on the Czech Senate president for betraying the feelings of Taiwanese, particularly after he had called himself “Taiwanese.”
“He didn’t even want to play the lip service after getting the masks and production lines from us,” said an internet commenter going by the name “henrk,” referring to 100,000 masks and five mask production lines Taiwan pledged to donate to the Czech Republic after Vystrcil’s visit.
“Can we get the medals back?” said “z810638” at the PTT Bulletin Board System, Taiwan’s largest and most popular terminal-based bulletin board system.
Vystrcil received a grand honorary medal from his Taiwanese counterpart You Shyi-kun to recognise his support for Taiwan. He also received, on behalf of the late Czech senate president Jaroslav Kubera, the Order of Propitious Clouds with Special Grand Cordon from Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen. Kubera initiated the island’s visit before his death in January.
But some netizens said Vystrcil had stayed true to himself.
“He never said Taiwan is an independent state, but he did say Taiwan is a democratic country, and so is there any problem, and why use your misinterpretation to heap scorn on him?” said commenter Chiang Yi-min who left the message at Taiwan’s SET television media chat room.
Tang Shao-cheng, a professor at National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations, said there was nothing wrong with Vystrcil saying he had never called Taiwan an independent state since he had to defend his visit to Taiwan.
He said the mainland’s growing economic influence in the Czech Republic had received mixed opinions in the Eastern European country with many people finding it unacceptable for the mainland to use its financial power to buy and merge big companies instead of helping the country develop infrastructure facilities as promised by mainland President Xi Jinping.
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