Czech Senate speaker Milos Vystrcil invoked a famous Cold War-era phrase by late US president John F. Kennedy as he delivered a landmark speech to Taiwan’s parliament Tuesday during a visit that has incensed Beijing.
Vystrcil channeled Kennedy’s 1963 challenge to communism when he declared “Ich bin ein Berliner” to West Berlin citizens worried about the Soviet Union’s looming presence behind the Iron Curtain.
Kennedy “used the phrase ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ to show his support for the people of Berlin and the highest values of freedom”, Vystrcil said.
“Maybe I can be more humble, but allow me to use the same determined phrase to conclude my speech in your country’s parliament, in Taiwan — I am Taiwanese.”
His final declaration — “I am Taiwanese” — was delivered in Mandarin and received a standing ovation from lawmakers on the self-ruled island.
As a precaution against coronavirus, he gave his speech wearing a facemask, which was decorated with the flags of the Czech Republic and Taiwan.
Vystrcil is leading a 90-member delegation to Taiwan that Beijing has slammed as a “despicable act”.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned on Monday that Vystrcil would “pay a high price for his short-sighted behaviour and political speculation”, while Beijing summoned the Czech ambassador.
Prague then summoned Beijing’s ambassador in response to Wang’s comments.
Beijing’s authoritarian leaders view Taiwan as part of China’s territory and have vowed to seize the island, by force if necessary.
The Czech government accepts Beijing’s “One China” policy and does not send official delegations to the island. But Vystrcil is a member of the right-wing opposition Civic Democrats and is not bound by the protocol.
Taiwanese parliamentary leader Yu Shyi-kun called Vystrcil’s visit a diplomatic breakthrough for Taipei that helps prove its existence to the international community.
“He does not yield to threats, intimidations and the lure of incentives… I believe that many countries will learn from Czech in the future,” Yu said.