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International relations

Shanghai breaks with Prague over partnership with Taiwan

Czech capital becomes sister cities with Taipei despite Belt and Road role

Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib, right, shakes hands with Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je in front of the Prague astronomical clock in Prague, Czech Republic on Jan. 13.   © AP

NEW YORK -- Shanghai suspended all ties with Prague on Tuesday, including its status as a sister city, after the Czech capital and vital stop on China's Belt and Road granted the same partnership to Taipei.

Prague inked the twinning agreement for commercial and cultural promotion with Taiwan's capital on Monday, days after the island's independence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen won reelection by a landslide.

Prague had ended its sister-city partnership with Beijing three months ago after refusing to commit to a "one China" policy, under which the mainland and Taiwan are regarded as part of the same country. The move drew a warning from China's foreign ministry.

"The city government of Prague repeatedly made wrong moves on Taiwan and other major issues concerning China's core interests, grossly interfered in China's internal affairs, and openly violated the one-China principle," Shanghai's municipal government said in a statement Tuesday.

As the political foundation between the cities no longer stands, the Chinese municipality said, "Shanghai will immediately terminate its sister-city relationship and suspend all official exchanges with Prague."

Prague and Shanghai had become sister cities in May 2017. Shanghai had removed Prague from its list of sister cities on its website by Tuesday.

Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib touted shared values with Taiwan at a signing ceremony in the city.

"Despite the undeniable geographical distance, we are connected with shared democratic values, respect for fundamental human rights and cultural freedoms, so we can learn from each other much and inspire each other," Hrib said. Both cities are "looking forward to becoming leaders in the area of smart city and innovation, where I see great potential for the future."

Hrib, who took office just over a year ago, has criticized China on issues including Tibet, Taiwan and claims of organ harvesting on prisoners. In an Op-Ed last week in German newspaper Die Welt addressing the decision to end Prague's friendship with Beijing, the doctor-turned-mayor called China "an unreliable and risky partner" that is "full of enormous resentment."

Following the Prague city government's spat with Beijing last fall, Czech President Milos Zeman wrote to Chinese President Xi Jinping, saying that he had no sympathy for the decision and that the Czech government fully respected the "one China" policy.

The Czech Republic has largely welcomed Beijing's Belt and Road infrastructure initiative under Zeman, who has portrayed his country as a gateway to Europe for China. But the Czech president also has complained of receiving little investment from China, and in April he called this issue "a stain on Czech-Chinese cooperation."

Meanwhile, a Pew Research Center study published last month suggests that only 27% of people in the Czech Republic hold a favorable opinion of China, far below the median of 43% in central and eastern Europe.

The U.S., wary of China's expanding influence in the region, has worked to bolster diplomatic ties there. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo conducted a tour of central and eastern Europe last year to warn countries of the danger of working with China.

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