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Not now, not ever.
That’s the message the mayor of Prague has for Chinese officials desperate to rebrand Beijing as a global superpower by selling supplies and offering aid to countries around the world struggling to fight coronavirus.
“This isn’t a humanitarian gift or aid,” Zdenek Hrib told Bloomberg News on Friday. “From China’s perspective, it’s business.”
Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib speaks during a meeting with East European mayors at the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, December 16, 2019. (Reuters)
That “business” has had some serious growing pains in the last few weeks. Up to 80 percent of the 150,000 rapid coronavirus test kits China delivered to the Czech Republic in March was faulty and less accurate than other tests, forcing the Czech Republic to continue to rely on conventional laboratory tests.
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The news hasn’t stopped other European nations or the United States from welcoming China’s help.
But as far as Hrib is concerned, China’s charm offensive isn’t working on him.
The 38-year-old Pirate Party member has become a rising symbol of Beijing skepticism in Europe.
His conviction was tested early on.
A few weeks after being elected to office in 2018, China’s ambassador asked Hrib to kick out its Taiwanese counterpart from a meeting in deference to Beijing’s “One China” policy, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan.
Under the previous mayor’s administration, the Prague city council signed an agreement with Beijing that recognized the “One China” policy. It also welcomed multimillion-dollar investments made by Beijing in the Czech Republic, including a sizable stake in a television station as well as the purchase of the Slavia Prague soccer club and a major brewery.
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Given the money on the line, most elected leaders would have caved to China’s demands.
Hrib did not.
“I refused, and I told him that here we don’t throw out guests we invited,” Hrib said. “So the ambassador rushed out himself.”
Hrib has further ruffled China’s feathers by openly speaking about his fondness for democratically-run Taiwan. He even has a certificate of honorary citizenship to Taipei that hangs on his office wall.
More recently, while parts of Europe were going into lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19, Hrib flew the Tibetan flag over city hall on March 10 to commemorate the anniversary of the region’s failed 1959 revolt over the Communist Party.
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Hrib believes that despite the extraordinary circumstances facing the world right now, it is important to keep pressure on China and challenge the country on its history of human rights abuses.
His comments directly contradict Milos Zeman, the Czech Republic’s China-friendly leader, who has accepted Beijing’s help and publicly praised President Xi Jinping a number of times.
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Despite his country favoring China, it doesn’t look as though Hrib’s frosty views will thaw any time soon.
In a separate interview with Bloomberg last year, Hrib said he wants the Czech Republic “to be a country that wouldn’t steer away form the tradition of human rights. A country that would not turn away from victims of injustice, but one that offers a helping hand.”
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