Taiwan and the Czech Republic are not David, but Don Quixote
In January, Czech Republic President-elect Petr Pavel, spoke on the phone with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen. In Europe, this is an unprecedented political risk, as it is bound to anger China. Soon after, Markéta Pekarová Adamová ，the speaker of Czech’s chamber of deputies who publicly stated that she will lead a large business delegation to Taiwan and South Korea, and may meet with Taiwanese dignitaries from 3/25-3/28, and follow the example of Czech president of the senate Miloš Vystrčil’s visit to Taiwan in 2020 to address the Taiwanese Legislature.
The new Czech President and the speaker of Czech’s chamber of deputies have both expressed a very different foreign policy from the previous administration by strengthening their engagement with Taiwan, leaving behind realist diplomacy and replacing it with value-based diplomacy. A similar European case was Lithuania.
Pavel said he “hope to have the opportunity to meet President Tsai in person in the future”(1), Adamová said the chamber of deputies “systematic support of partners who respect human rights and the principles of liberal democracy belongs among priorities of our parliamentary diplomacy”(2).In response to China’s protests, Adamová blatantly stated that “We don’t want anyone to tell us where to go. Be it China or other people”(3).
Former Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek also published a tweet ,even more bluntly saying that “We believe Taiwan will never be China’s.”(4)
Some public opinion interpreted this as an opportunity for the Czech Republic and Taiwan to show their defiance for China , and some public opinion said that “China is losing Europe’s east to Taiwan“, Some public opinion even quoted a biblical story describing this as a prototype of “democratic David against autocratic Goliath archetype”.
Well,the people of Taiwan have heard too many similar Aria in recent years, but the truth is , beautiful diplomatic rhetoric is always been accompanied by the haze of war , and Taiwan’s diplomatic position has never advanced a step forward. No country that claims to “support Taiwan” is willing to establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan or give Taiwan official recognition of a sovereign and independent state.
Talk is cheap.
Using the story of David and Goliath to position themselves as the righteous underdog is a Western-style religious sentiment,The truth is, the people of Taiwan have never felt oppressed and bullied by China, On the contrary, China is more than willing to share the development dividends with the Taiwanese and promote Taiwan’s economic development.
Although Taiwan’s ruling party regards such sharing as “improper buying with bad intentions” ,it has not blocked economic and trade exchanges between Taiwan and mainland China, It is clear that actions do not match words.
The evidence is that Taiwan’s exports to China account for more than 40 percent of total exports, that trade dependence is increasing every year, And even though the current administration is accustomed to fomenting anti-Chinese sentiment, it has never stopped asking for economic and trade favors from China.
It is true that the Chinese military has never stopped its exercises around Taiwan, but the people of Taiwan have never felt the pressure of security since 1996.It was only when U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, stimulating an unprecedented military response from China, and when the U.S. aggressively armed Taiwan, causing the Taiwanese to realize the imminence of war.
President Tsai Ing-wen is to blame for Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, she was wrong when she assessed that inviting Pelosi to Taiwan was not a provocation to China. The evidence is that the new U.S. House Speaker McCarthy has hinted that he will visit Taiwan this year, but Tsai did not dare to invite him. Instead, the compromise is that Tsai Ing-wen stops in the United States, visits California and meets with McCarthy(5) to avoid affecting Taiwan’s 2024 presidential election.
In the Bible, it is not David who provokes Goliath, but the opposite.so it is a false analogy to use this story to describe the relationship between Taiwan and China, or the relationship between the Czech Republic and China.
A more similar story is that of Don Quixote and the Windmill, Taiwan and the Czech Republic fighting against an enemy they fabricated themselves.
Has distant China ever oppressed the Czech Republic? Please give one example, one is fine.
We have heard some news from Eastern Europe that the Czech Republic is complaining that China is not fulfilling its commitment to invest heavily in the Czech Republic, this can only be described as a breach of trust, not oppression.
Adamová claims that Taiwan’s investment in the Czech Republic is 14 to 16 times higher than China’s(6), However, according to the Ministry of Economic Affairs of Taiwan, as of May 2022, Taiwan’s investment in the Czech Republic was US$160 million(7), according to the Ministry of Commerce of China, Chinese investment in the Czech Republic had reached US$1.2 billion by the end of 2020.(8)
The opposite is true, isn’t it? For what reason does Adamová see the windmills as giants and the sheep as an army?
We know that Adamová cares about human rights issues, but isn’t it a form of oppression to force Western values into the East when there is such a gap between Western and Eastern cultures? Has China ever criticized the West with its own values? Please give one example, one is fine.
Second, does Adamová know that liberal democracy in Taiwan is a formality? What’s more, the current Taiwan government has been in power for nearly seven years and it has caused Taiwan’s democracy to regress?
Will the Czech government forcibly shut down a TV news outlet? Will the Czech government buy most of the media as an official mouthpiece? Will the Czech government spend public funds to support cyber soldier to suppress dissent? Is the Czech judiciary like a servant of the government? Is the Czech president not subject to parliamentary oversight at all? Is the Czech judiciary a servant of the government? Is the Czech president completely exempt from parliamentary oversight? Did the Czech president refuse media interviews for two years? Does the majority party in the Czech parliament only taking orders from the President?
The above are the “political achievements” of Taiwan’s current government, of which Adamová may not be aware, or may be aware but tacitly acknowledges . For the people of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen’s government is far from a democratic government in the strict sense.
If Adamová knows the current Taiwan government well, is this trip value diplomacy or realism diplomacy? We have to suspect that this trip is just a political statement to please the United States.
After the formation of the new governmen, Czech public opinion is lambasting former President Milos Zeman for dividing Czech society. If a divided society represents a regression in democracy and populist rule of the country, then Tsai Ing-wen is a political leader who has divided Taiwan society, and her party, the DPP, is a populist party. Tsai Ing-wen’s government is a government with poor internal governance and brings the haze of war to the people.
Can anyone imagine a democratic government would do everything possible to refuse to introduce internationally recognized vaccines in order to support immature local vaccines, regardless of the lives of its people? This is one of the main reasons why the DPP lost the 2022 local elections.
Blaming “Goliath” for everything cannot cover up the failure of governance.
Taiwan welcomes all economic and trade cooperation, which is beneficial to both peoples, but please do not use economic and trade cooperation as a shortcut to smuggle in anti-Chinese political performances, which will only harm the interests of both peoples.
The Czech Republic may have its own reasons to alienate and despise China, but if they dare not establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan, or even recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty officially, then Czech should not use Taiwan to irritate China. Although there is a sovereignty dispute between Beijing and Taipei, most people in Taiwan want to put the dispute aside and maintain a friendly relationship with Beijing.
There is no David, only Don Quixote. In East Asia, there is no “Goliath”, China is just a windmill.
Europe’s relations with Africa and Asia are on the brink of collapse, and Russia is benefiting
More than one year since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the world remains caught in the middle. Against a backdrop of high energy and food prices, ravaging inflation, social unrest and fears of another global recession, Western and Russian blocs are once again vying for support from nations of the developing world.
Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz, Sergei Lavrov, Qin Gang, and Anthony Blinken are just some of the names that have made high-profile visits to Africa in the last 12 months. All have largely focused on cooperation and trade, yet each has done so with a discourse reflecting a kind of Cold War reboot, with Ukraine as one of its most prominent symptoms.
Each in their own way, armed with their respective propaganda, these superpowers wish for nations of Africa and Asia to pick a side. Yet, unlike the previous century, those nations cannot so easily be made to choose, nor should they have to. Russia understands this. The West does not.
It’s no secret that Africa has been reluctant to overtly condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine, or to participate in Western efforts to sanction and isolate the warring country. Instead, African and Asian nations have continued to welcome these longstanding partners with open arms – widely condemning the war, but not Russia.
In Malawi, for instance, Russia’s deliveries of tens of thousands of tonnes of fertiliser amidst global shortages are seen as a gift from heaven by struggling farmers. Malawi’s minister of agriculture shook hands with the Russian ambassador, describing Russia gratefully as “a true friend”. Russia’s announced plans to send 260,000 tonnes of fertiliser to countries across Africa, is certain to spread similar sentiments.
In my country Congo-Brazzaville, the government signed five major cooperation agreements with Russia in the midst of its war with Ukraine, including for the construction of a new oil pipeline and to enhance military cooperation.
This charm offensive, prominently led by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who has visited South Africa, Eswatini, Angola, Eritrea, Mali, Sudan and Mauritania just since January, is already nourishing pro-Russian sentiment throughout the continent, and stands in sharp contrast to the damp squib that was President Emmanuel Macron’s recent African adventure.
In his press conference with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President, Felix Tshisekedi, in what was perhaps the most deaf-tone faux pas of his entire trip, President Macron was repeatedly asked to condemn Rwanda’s support for M23 rebels causing havoc in eastern DRC – a situation that closely resembles Russia’s covert support for Donbass separatists in recent years. For all intents and purposes, he failed to do so.
Instead, when a French journalist quizzed him on former Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s disparaging mention of an “African-style compromise” in relation to President Tshisekedi election in 2019, Macron proceeded to lecture the Congolese President on freedom of the press – much to the disbelief of those witnessing the scene.
Despite President Macron’s effusive rhetoric about ‘new relationships’ and ‘new starts’, his outburst was yet another bitter reminder of Europe’s longstanding paternalistic and dissonant attitude towards the continent. This is the same attitude whereby decades of European political and military influence on the continent have failed to generate meaningful progress when they did not actively undermine those efforts. Africans are wise to this and refuse to take it anymore, as evidenced by the growth in anti-French sentiment in West Africa. Russia, China and others, though far from being without reproach, are merely seizing the presented opportunities.
Just as the share of EU aid going to Africa has declined significantly, similar problems are afoot with Europe’s relations in Asia. Its share of Southeast Asian merchandise trade, excluding China, fell by over a third over the last two decades. Western Europe was the destination for less than a tenth of Malaysian, Singaporean, South Korean and Taiwanese exports in 2021. Russia is again moving fast to fill the gap, adopting China as its main trading partner, and consistently exporting oil and gas to eager Asian buyers, rather than to the West. When Russia suspended its double taxation treaties with “unfriendly” countries around the world in mid-March, most Southeast Asian countries were exempted from this measure.
Moreover, Russia has over the last decade become the largest arms supplier to the region, recently running joint naval exercises with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia have all rejected imposing sanctions on Moscow, whilst Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia to improve agricultural trade earlier this year.
One cannot fault these nations for engaging in partnerships and cooperation with international partners, in the interest of addressing their most urgent societal priorities. Nor can one fault African and Asian countries for taking with a pinch of salt a discourse on international values and change, when this supposed change stems not from recognition of current flaws, but from the impositions of emergent global trends.
What lessons can be given about territorial integrity and justice, when the events of 2011 in Libya, as well as their enduring consequences, remain traumatically fresh in African minds, or when the posture of African countries relative to the war in Ukraine is almost identical to that of Europe relative to the conflict in the eastern provinces of the DRC?
What lessons should be drawn from European courts proceeding to the seizure of Malaysian assets and properties worth $15 billion – including lucrative oil and gas assets – based on a questionable arbitration authorised by a Spanish arbitrator facing criminal prosecution from the Spanish authorities? And who will really benefit, given that this claim on sovereign territories, derived from a mid-nineteenth agreement between a long-vanished Sultanate and a colonial-era British company, is funded by unknown third-party investors?
The willingness of European courts to confiscate the resources and assets of a sovereign Asian nation on such flimsy grounds is not lost on observers in Africa and across the developing world.
Whatever the answer to these questions may be, it is evident that relations between the old and new worlds will continue to strain as long as underlying assumptions and beliefs do not evolve. Specifically, change is needed in those attitudes that continue to consider developing nations as oblivious to the many contradictions of rhetoric and practice that characterise the world as we know it – whether in terms of: a system of aid and trade that nourishes the imbalances and ills it purports to address; a discourse on international law and values that crumbles in the face of past transgressions and current drives for reforms; or even negotiations on climate finance in which urgency stops when economic interests begin.
The Western world can only reverse this trajectory by seeking out a genuinely new footing in its relations with the countries of Africa and Asia – challenging its own assumptions and understandings about what a respectful partnership between equally legitimate nations truly means. This is not about paying lip-service to ideals struggling to remain convincing, nor is it about entirely conceding these ideals on the altar of economic pragmatism.
Rather this means accepting a due share of responsibility for the current state of affairs, understanding expectations for the future, being willing to make real concessions, and aligning discourse with dollars and deeds. In doing so, the Western world will reassure those of us that continue to believe in the promises of the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that these were not merely pretences to maintain hegemony in the face of existential threats, but rather an enduring vision for a better world that remains worth fighting for today.
A Muscular U.S. Foreign Policy and Changing Alliances
Imagine a country rich in fossil fuels and another nearby that is Europe’s premier industrial power in dire need of those resources — is that a match made in heaven?
Not according to Joe Biden who quashed it as if it was a match made in hell. Biden was so much against any such rapprochement that to end all prospects of a deal, he ordered the bombing of the Nord Stream pipelines. Two out of four lines were severely damaged, about 50 meters of them and Russia chose not to conduct repairs. Instead,it is pumping its gas up through Turkey.
So far, Russia has not responded to this act of war but a leader can not afford to lose face domestically or internationally, and one may not be surprised if an American facility or ship suffers an adverse event in the future.
In the meantime, Russia has become fast friends with China — the latter having its own bone to pick with Biden. China, a growing industrial giant, has almost insatiable energy needs and Russia stands ready to supply them. An informal deal has been agreed upon with a formal signing ceremony on March 20, 2023.
So who won this fracas? Russia gets to export its gas anyway and China, already generating the world’s highest GDP on a purchasing-power-parity basis, has guaranteed itself an energy source.
Of course there is Ukraine where Biden (like the US in Vietnam) is ready to fight to the last Ukrainian. Despite a valiant resistance, they are not winning, for Russia continues to solidify its hold on Ukraine’s east, most recently by taking Soledar and capturing parts of the transport hub Bakhmut itself.
And then there is Saudi Arabia: hitherto a staunch U.S. ally, it is now extending a hand of friendship to Iran, which its previous king used to call the snake in the Middle East. But Saudi Arabia is keenly aware of the vassal-like manner in which the U.S. has treated Germany, its ally with the largest economy in Europe, over its desire to buy cheap gas from Russia. The deal was nixed and observers estimate it cost Germany a couple of points of GDP growth. Such a loss in the U.S. would translate to almost zero growth.
India used to be a neutral country between the great powers. In fact, its first leader after independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a leading figure in the non-aligned movement. It is now being tugged towards the US.
The latest tug is ICET or the initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies. Its purpose is to find ways to engage through “innovation bridges” over the key areas of focus. This coordination between the two countries is to cover industry, academia and government.
On the other hand, India’s arch rival Pakistan used to be in the US orbit for decades. Now it is virtually a Chinese client state even though for a time, particularly during the Afghan war, it was a source of much help for the US.
Such are the vagaries of alignments in a multi-polar world, particularly when under pressure from major powers.
Adoption of the controversial pension reform bill in France
On Thursday, 16th March 2023, the senate adopted the pension reform bill with 193 senators voting for the project and 114 senators voting against it. A few hours later, after many meetings of key figures of the government and the Renaissance party –the governing party – , it was decided that the National Assembly was not going to vote for the bill but rather the government would use the famous 49.3, an article of the 1958 constitution which allows the prime minister to have a bill adopted into law without a vote. The Senate and the National Assembly – through a joint committee – had agreed on a compromise text of the bill the day before the crucial vote in the Parliament. The project was so important to President Macron that he threatened to dissolve the National Assembly if the project did not go through. Some analysts saw this threat as way of inducing members of the National Assembly to adopt the project rather than put into jeopardy their political careers. Politicians like Christian Estrosi, mayor of Nice, a staunch republican, claims members of the National Assembly had to vote the bill because they should be convinced that it is the best thing to do right now for a sustainable pension system in France.
When President Macron was elected in 2017, he pledged to change the pension system in France for he believed that it was unjust and that it would be difficult to sponsor it in the years to come since more people will be going into retirement. It is believed that those aged 65 will be more than the under 20 come the year 2030. Macron did not carry out the reform in his first term in office after meeting with different resistance like the one of the Gilets Jaunes; he probably feared it may cost him the second term. Once the first term was over, he was most probably determined to carry on simply because he is not scared to lose, his second term being the last one. The pension reform has been heavily contested, with polls in February 2023 suggesting that 65% of the French people are against it.
The reform moves the retirement age from 62 to 64 years. The change will be carried out progressively with 3 months added each year to make it two years in total in 2030. To have fully contributed to the retirement insurance one will have worked 43 years. People working in relatively hard industries like the police, firefighters, garbage collection will still be able to retire early. However, those who entered the career late like those who had long studies will have to work until 67 years. Disabled people could still go on retirement at the age of 55 while those who have suffered disability along the way could retire at the age of 60.
With the new bill having become a law, those who will have a complete career (43 years) will not receive less than 85% of minimum wage (i.e. 1200 Euros gross salary). Furthermore, the government believes it will be able to save 17.7 billion Euros by 2030 with the new pension system. According to the government, increasing the retirement age was the fairer way than increasing taxes especially that people are believed to live longer than in the past.
The left parties (La France Insoumise LFI, Les Socialistes, Europe Ecologie-les Verts) have made it difficult for the bill discussion especially in the National Assembly by proposing thousands of amendments to delay the voting process and even derail it. This is probably why the government feared to lose the vote and decided to invoke 49.3. The government doesn’t have the outright majority and has had to rely on the right party (les Républicains LR) to have the reform bill voted in the Senate but some of Renaissance members of the National Assembly were reluctant to vote for the bill and some LR members had said they would abstain, leaving the ruling party with no other choice than to use 49.3. The Prime Minister suggested that “the reform is necessary” and she was taking responsibility by invoking 49.3.
The reform bill was so unpopular that there have been protests for months spearheaded by the Union of workers who mobilized workers across many industries (i.e. energy, transport) and public institutions (e.g. education). Millions of people have been on the street, a reminiscence of 1968, when students spearheaded strikes in which 10 million of people took to the street to make request which resulted, inter alia, in the 35% increase of minimum wage. The objective of protestors against pension reform bill had been to make the government withdraw the entire project because they believe it is unjust to ask people to work two years more, considering that their career is long enough. President Macron seemed not interested to receive the Unions and had no intention to withdraw the project.
As a result of strikes, the city of Paris and some other cities in France have seen the bins fill up along the streets and residents are said to hold their noses as they pass by. For some this is not the image to show to the world for a city that is hosting Olympic games in 2024 let alone for health reasons but for others this is the price to pay for the actions of a government that does not hid the voices of the people. Transport on the road as well as in the air has been heavily disrupted. Those who don’t participate in strikes are generally said to support the actions of the protesters. However, it is unclear if they will keep supporting them if the movement lasts long.
Using 49.3 always comes with the risk that the opposition would present a censure motion, in which the government itself runs the risk of being forced to resign and the text of the bill being rejected if the censure motion is adopted. Before the Prime Minister announced that the government had chosen to use 49.3 to adopt the pension reform bill, she was not allowed to speak for a few minutes. Ivan Rioufol, a journalist at CNews believes that this moment is not just a big moment for the 5th Republic but also a historical moment. For now, the government has triumphed and one of the most contested reforms of French modern politics has become a law– at least if the censure motion does not bring down the government and along with it, the newly-adopted law.
Nonetheless, despite the bill being adopted into law by the Senate and through 49.3, unions have vowed to keep protesting until the law is suspended. In a recent BFMTV poll, 62% French people would want the strikes to continue if the bill passes. Now that it has passed, it is not clear whether the resistance will make the government change anything. Neither is it clear whether the movement itself will be able to resist long since the longer workers strike the more money they lose from the salary. With the inflation and conditions of life that have been hard due to Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine it will be hard to sustain the strikes. What is clear is that the repercussions of this reform will linger on for many years to come. One anonymous political scientist even claimed that this could open the narrow door to the extreme right to come into power.
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