When German Pres. Joachim Gauck met with Miloš Zeman in May of this year, he said that he was glad that he was able to encounter in his Czech counterpart a fighter for freedom and a convinced European. This was a notable change from Gauck's comment from a year earlier, when he warned that a directly elected president should not become second government of a country. In the intervening year, Zeman lost his attempt to take over control of the Czech political system, so Gauck toned down his rhetoric and turned the antidemocratic Zeman into a fighter for freedom. The obvious question, in light of Zeman's recent comments about Russia and China, is whether it was premature of Gauck to let Zeman off the hook. And the second question is why the CR's allies are tolerating such behavior from Zeman.
As far as we know, Zeman did not consult in advance with the EU about the message he was taking to China. As the first head of state to visit China since the start of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, a „convinced European“ would probably seek to send a consensual message about democratic values. A discussion might have even been held about whether it was appropriate for an EU head of state to visit China now.
Zeman’s lapse in this respect wouldn’t matter so much if his message in China remained merely economic and if he only acted as the lobbyist of PPF (which apparently planned and arranged the trip for him). Instead, Zeman made two major political statements in Beijing that can now be cited by China as precedents.
First, he gave his implicit approval to the Chinese approach to dealing with the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. He said in a meeting with Pres. Xi Jinping, and also here in English on Chinese TV, that the CR will not interfere in Chinese domestic affairs. This is the same Czech president who has interfered verbally in the affairs of other countries, including most recently Ukraine and Russia. In this light, his comment about China is hypocritical and is intended to achieve a predetermined result.
Second, he spoke of the desire to see the quick, peaceful reunification of Taiwan with the mainland. This is far more important than his comment about Tibet, which merely reflects the official policy enunciated by Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek on his visit to China in April. Czech-Chinese treaties already recognize Chinese territorial integrity, and Zaorálek said then that the question of independence for Tibet will not be opened. However, no mention was made of Taiwan.
No European government (except the Vatican) recognizes Taiwan independence and this implicitly means that they accept the ultimate reunification with the mainland, but it is quite a different matter for a European head of state to voice support for a quick reunification. This is such an important statement from the standpoint of China that it could be the main reason that Beijing awarded an official visit to the Czech president. An EU head of state has now voiced official Chinese policy, without any qualifiers. This is likely what PPF delivered to China in exchange for its consumer-lending license.
When Miroslav Kalousek was battling ČEZ in 2009, he started speaking about the „creeping privatization of public authority.“ He dropped this after he agreed with Martin Roman to privatize public authority together, but the same concept could now be applied to the creeping privatization of foreign policy.
One theory for why the CR’s allies allow such behavior is that they don’t think it matters what the Czechs do, because real decisions are made elsewhere. Another view is that Czech politicians are all talk. When asked at an AMO event last night about ambiguous Czech foreign policy, U.S. Amb. Andrew Schapiro said that actions matter more than words and that the Czechs have implemented the sanctions, etc. Schapiro did, though, manage to give a talk on bilateral relations without once mentioning Zeman. Havel was mentioned more than 10 times. The U.S. and other allies apparently hope Zeman is just a passing phase.
Schapiro opened his speech by saying he thought of dressing up for Halloween like Petr Kellner but that no one knows what he looks like. We’re delighted that Schapiro read yesterday’s Final Word, but we’d prefer to hear his views on how Kellner is drafting Czech foreign policy.
Autor: Erik Best