China raps Czech president-elect over Taiwan call
By Yew Lun Tian and Eduardo Baptista
BEIJING (Reuters) -China condemned on Tuesday a phone call between Czech President-elect Petr Pavel and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen, saying he ignored Beijing's repeated attempts at dissuasion.
Monday's call was a diplomatic breakthrough for the China-claimed island, which has no formal relations with Prague.
The Czech government, though, said as a sovereign country, it made its own decisions on who it talked to, while the call did not mark a change in its policy toward China which remained aligned with western allies.
Most countries avoid high-level public interactions with Taiwan and its president, not wishing to provoke China, the world's second largest economy.
"Czech President-elect Pavel ignored China's repeated attempts to dissuade him and our repeated representations," Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning Mao told reporters.
"He has persisted in stepping on China's red line, seriously interfering in China's domestic affairs and hurting the feelings of the Chinese people."
In 2016, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump also spoke by phone with Tsai, setting off a storm of protest from Beijing.
Taiwan's democratically-elected government strongly objects to Beijing's claims that it is part of "one China", saying the People's Republic of China has never governed the island and has no right to speak on its behalf globally or decide its future.
Beijing regularly criticises visits by foreign lawmakers to the island, but a call between a head of state and Tsai is rare and likely seen as a graver affront by Beijing.
"Before his election, Pavel publicly stated that the 'one China' principle should be respected, yet now he has gone back on his words," Mao added.
"China once again urges the Czech Republic to...take immediate and effective measures to eliminate the negative impact of this incident and avoid irreparable damage to China-Czech relations."
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said on Tuesday the Czech Republic maintained the policy of "one China" despite having good relations with Taiwan.
"Czechia respects and holds its own one-China policy," Fiala said in a statement. "As a sovereign country we decide ourselves who we have calls with and who we will meet."
Pavel angered China just days after his election victory. He takes office in March, replacing President Milos Zeman, who has sought to foster the country's ties to China in the past decade.
The centre-right government, has also sought developing relations with Taiwan, which is a growing business partner, since taking office in 2021.
In 2020, the Czech Senate leader visited Taiwan in a move that also angered Beijing.
Mao said on Tuesday China had lodged "stern representations" with the Czech side. Warning of "irreparable damage" to China-Czech ties could be a sign Beijing is planning retaliatory measures.
Since last year, China has downgraded diplomatic ties with Lithuania, sanctioned a Lithuanian deputy minister and pressured multinationals to sever links with the Baltic nation of 2.8 million people after it allowed Taiwan to open a de facto embassy in Vilnius.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian, Joe Cash and Eduardo Baptista in Beijing; Additional reporting by Jason Hovet, Robert Muller and Jan Lopatka in Prague; Writing by Eduardo Baptista; Editing by Tom Hogue, Andrew Cawthorne and Alex Richardson)