Prague Vs. China, Inc.
Czech capital’s mayor stands up to China and positions himself both on principle and in Czech politics.
- The refusal of Prague mayor Zdenek Hrib to endorse Beijing’s One China policy sets a high bar for other Western powers.
- Prague mayor Zdenek Hrib is challenging the new normal of world leaders flagrantly ignoring international law to operate on the principle of might is right.
- Western powers are struggling to respond to allegations of police brutality against Hong Kong protesters and China’s crackdown in Xinjiang.
The refusal of Prague mayor Zdenek Hrib 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.
It also has implications regarding leaked documents detailing a brutal crackdown in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang.
The 38-year-old Prague mayor 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.
A young mayor, old China hand
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 U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s signing of legislation that allows for the sanctioning of Hong Kong officials.
It is also relevant with regard to the embarrassing Communist party leaks that document repression in Xinjiang.
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.
In fact, beyond the China issue, 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.
In making his move, Mr. Hrib, a medical doctor by training who did a medical internship in Taiwan, was shouldering little political or economic risk.
The Czech public is very displeased with China’s failure to fulfil promises of significant investment in the country.
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 even 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.”
Clean Czech logic in the country’s capital
Perhaps more importantly, Mr. Hrib was taking a stand based on principles and values rather than interests.
In doing so, he was challenging the new normal of world leaders flagrantly ignoring international law to operate on the principle of might is right.
“Our conscience is not for sale,” said Michaela Krausova, a leading member of the governing Pirate Party of the Prague city council.
Ms. Krausova and Mr. Hrib’s party was founded to shake up Czech politics with its insistence on the safeguarding of civil liberties and political accountability and transparency.