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International relations

Taiwan's Tsai speaks with Czech president-elect, in diplomatic coup

Both sides stress shared democratic values in call likely to draw Beijing's ire

Petr Pavel won the Czech Republic's presidential election on Jan. 28. He will replace President Milos Zeman, known for a pro-Beijing stance.   © Reuters

TAIPEI/PRAGUE (Reuters) -- Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen held a telephone call with Czech President-elect Petr Pavel on Monday, a highly unusual move given the lack of formal ties between their countries and a diplomatic coup for Taipei that is sure to infuriate China.

The two leaders stressed their countries' shared values of freedom, democracy and human rights during their 15-minute call, their offices said, and Pavel said he hoped to meet Tsai in the future.

Most countries avoid high-level public interactions with Taiwan and its president, not wishing to provoke China, the world's second largest economy.

Beijing views Taiwan as being part of "one China" and demands other countries recognize its sovereignty claims, which Taiwan's democratically elected government rejects.

In 2016, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump spoke by telephone with Tsai shortly after winning the election, setting off a storm of protest from Beijing.

Tsai said she hoped that under Pavel's leadership the Czech Republic would continue to cooperate with Taiwan to promote a close partnership, and that she hoped to stay in touch with him.

"Bilateral interaction between Taiwan and the Czech Republic is close and good," her office summarized Tsai as having said.

Pavel, a former army chief and high NATO official who won the Czech presidential election on Saturday, said on Twitter that the two countries "share the values of freedom, democracy, and human rights."

Earlier, China's Foreign Ministry had said it was "seeking verification with the Czech side" on media reports that the call was to take place.

"The Chinese side is opposed to countries with which it has diplomatic ties engaging in any form of official exchange with the Taiwan authorities. Czech President-elect Pavel during the election period openly said that the 'One-China' principle should be respected," the ministry said.

Pavel will take office in early March, replacing President Milos Zeman, who is known for his pro-Beijing stance.

Zeman spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping this month, and they reaffirmed their "personal friendly" relationship, according to a readout of their call from Zeman's office.

The Czech Republic, like most countries, has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but the two sides have moved closer as Beijing ratchets up military threats against the island and Taipei seeks new friends in Eastern and Central Europe.

The center-right Czech government has said it wants to deepen cooperation with democratic governments in the Indo-Pacific region, including Taiwan, and has also been seeking a "revision" of ties with China.

In 2020, the head of the Czech Senate visited Taiwan and declared himself to be Taiwanese in a speech at Taiwan's parliament, channeling the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy's defiance of communism in Berlin in 1963.

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