Shanghai cuts ties with the sister city of Prague over Taiwan dispute

Prague signed a sister city agreement with Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, on Monday, an agreement that deepened and strengthened its relationship by promising cooperation in areas that include tourism and education.

Sister city agreements formalize relationships between cities and often provide mutual benefits, such as special commercial or educational exchanges.

The Prague-Taipei agreement was a rebuff to China, which considers the autonomous island of Taiwan as part of its territory and rejects any suggestion to the contrary.

China’s response was quick and furious. On Tuesday, Shanghai, which was also a sister city with Prague, severed all ties and suspended official contact, according to a statement drafted by the city government’s foreign affairs department.

Prague has “seriously interfered with China’s internal affairs and has openly challenged the One China principle,” the statement said, referring to China’s position that Taiwan is part of China. “The Shanghai municipal government and citizens strongly condemn and solemnly protest!”

How the Prague-China relationship grew sour

The Prague movement is only the last of a series of steps that it has recently taken to move away from China.

Prague also used to be sister cities with the Chinese capital, Beijing, but that relationship ended in October 2019 due to a disagreement over Taiwan. In the sister city agreement, Beijing included the requirement to follow the “One China” principle, against which the Prague councilors voted overwhelmingly.
The mayor of Prague, Zdenek Hrib, criticized Beijing in a statement on the website of the city council, accusing him, among other things, of using the sister city agreement “to spread its propaganda.”

“In my opinion, this means that we clearly cannot speak of an association,” said Hrib.

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Prague was also unhappy with Beijing for a second economic reason: China had promised investments that finally never arrived, the mayor said.
In a press release announcing the new Taipei agreement on Monday, Prague officials made a direct comparison with Beijing and touched both points of disagreement.

“I believe that cooperation (with Taipei) will be beneficial and will not be fraught with political clauses, as was the case with the treaty with Beijing, which was terminated,” said Jiri Pospisil, a Czech member of the European Parliament, in the press release. “Taiwan is an investor several times larger in the Czech Republic than the People’s Republic of China, and also respects the principles of freedom and democracy.”

The mayors of Prague and Taipei walk through the Old Town Square in Prague on January 13, 2020.The mayors of Prague and Taipei walk through the Old Town Square in Prague on January 13, 2020.

Mayor Hrib also praised “Taiwan’s respect for fundamental human rights and cultural freedoms” in the press release, although he did not explicitly mention China.

However, Czech lawmaker Jan Cizinsky was less subtle and added that “sister contracts should never be subject to extortion or threats.”

Shanghai’s brief statement did not respond to any of these accusations, but urged the Prague government to “recognize the mistakes … and return to the beginning of China.”

Beijing is still sister cities with many other important European cities like Budapest, Paris, Amsterdam and London. Shanghai’s sister cities include the Bulgarian capital Sofia and the American city of San Francisco.

What is the China-Taiwan conflict?

The Prague movement is unusual as it is one of the few places that has severed a diplomatic relationship with China in favor of one with Taiwan. It also occurs amid growing political debate in the Czech Republic about the country’s relationship with China.

China’s communist leadership refuses to maintain diplomatic ties with any country that recognizes Taiwan, a democratic island of some 23 million people.

The president of Taiwan thanks voters after winning re-electionThe president of Taiwan thanks voters after winning re-election

Taiwan and mainland China have ruled separately since the end of a bloody civil war in 1949. Since then, Beijing and Taipei have competed for economic opportunities and diplomatic support from governments around the world.

The Taiwanese government lost its recognition at the United Nations to the continental government in 1971. Taiwan now only has 15 diplomatic allies left, mostly small nations in the Caribbean and the Pacific, and the Vatican.
Only in the last two years, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, El Salvador, Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic announced that they would no longer recognize Taipei, changing diplomatic loyalties to Beijing.
China has also pressured global companies to conform to its “One China” policy: in 2018, US airlines such as Delta, American Airlines and United yielded to China’s demands on how they refer to Taiwan on their websites .
Taiwan has escaped from China's fingers, but will Beijing ever admit it? Taiwan has escaped from China's fingers, but will Beijing ever admit it?
China has long pressed for the unification of Taiwan with mainland China, but it seems less likely than ever.
Just last week, Taiwan re-elected President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party that leans for independence in a landslide, beating a candidate who was closer to Beijing.
The campaign had been dominated by the fear of the Chinese invasion of Taiwanese sovereignty, with many voters alarmed by the continuing riots in Hong Kong, once seen as a model for some in China for a possible future acquisition of Taiwan.

“The results of these elections have an additional meaning because they have shown that when our sovereignty and democracy are threatened, the Taiwanese people will shout our determination even louder,” Tsai said after his victory.

CNN’s Ben Westcott and James Griffiths contributed reports.

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