PRAGUE—The Czech Republic’s orchestra Prague Philharmonia has planned an autumn tour in China this year, during which it will perform 14 concerts. However, the event may not happen at all. The Chinese regime is trying to cancel the tour in response to a diplomatic meeting between the Mayor of Prague and Taiwan officials—Prague’s support of Taiwan is seen as a threat to China’s sovereignty over the country.
The chief organizer of the Prague Philharmonia said that they will only be granted permission to perform in China if the members of the orchestra oppose the capital leadership’s favorable stance towards Taiwan.
“The organizer has indicated that we should declare our position as being against the Prague leadership’s attitudes towards the People’s Republic of China in relation to Taiwan,” said Martin Klimpl, head of the Prague Philharmonia, in an interview for Czech Radio on April 29.
But Klimpl refuses to give into China’s demands.
“We have responded to this by saying that if any conditions are imposed on us, we will refuse them,” Kimpl said, adding: “We will not make any statements that may be underestimated or even dictated to us.”
China has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over Taiwan, which it considers a wayward province of “one China” and sacred Chinese territory, despite the fact that the latter is a de facto independent country with its own elected officials, constitution, military, and currency. The Chinese regime has not renounced the use of force to reunite Taiwan with the mainland.
The Prague Philharmonia has already done several successful tours in China. The event is organized by a Chinese agency based in Vienna.
The intentions of the Chinese regime to cancel the Prague Philharmonia tour were confirmed on April 28 by Czech Minister of Culture Antonin Stanek, who recently met with the Chinese Minister of Culture, Luo Shugang.
According to Minister Stanek, the Chinese authorities have recorded some statements made by the mayor of the City of Prague during a meeting with Taiwan officials in March. Mayor Zdenek Hrib had raised issues that the Chinese regime deems sensitive—human rights abuses, Taiwan and the “one-China” policy. Since then, the Chinese regime has stopped cooperating with cultural institutions that have “Prague” in their name, which is the case of the Prague Philharmonia.
Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said on March 29 that he would first confirm the information about the planned cancellation of the Philharmonic Tour, and then plan a meeting with the Chinese Ambassador in Prague to discuss the matter.
“It is an unfortunate decision if the cultural community should be subjected to restrictions because of some discrepancies in politics,” said Minister Petricek. “Culture is for bringing people closer together. If artists have certain opinions, they should not be punished for them,” he added.
The Prague Philharmonic violinist described the orchestra’s experience from the last tour in China in 2017 on his blog: “Each one of us has come to their own point of view about the country that we have heard so often in our country lately. On the one hand, great riches; on the other, abject poverty and misery ….”
Mayor of Prague Defies China, Supports Taiwan
During a visit in Taiwan on March 29, Mayor Hrib told the local media that he was being pressured by the Chinese regime. The Chinese embassy wanted him to cancel a meeting with the Taiwan envoy in Prague, which it considered “unacceptable.”
Hrib also stated to Czech Radio that Czech officials are definitely under no obligation to give way to such pressure from the Chinese regime: “I did not do this earlier in the year when the Chinese ambassador tried to raise the same issue at my New Year’s meeting with the diplomatic corps, and I will not do it next time either. The politicians of the Czech Republic do not need to obsequiously nod to the wishes of the Chinese ambassador, we are a sovereign state.”
Hrib wrote on his Facebook account on March 29: “Taiwan is one of our biggest foreign investors. Since 1993 it has created 23,000 jobs in our country, while Beijing has bought a television station, a stadium and a couple of politicians ….We want to establish more intensive cooperation with Taipei. This would also be helped by a direct airline with Prague, for which I asked for support from the Foreign Minister of Taiwan, Joseph Wu.”
“There were many promises about investment in the Czech Republic in mainland China. However, these promises did not materialize. And it turned out that the promised investments are not really investments,” Hrib said in an interview with NTD on March 29 in Taiwan.
Condemning Organ Harvesting in China
Mayor Hrib also made a few statements objecting to the human rights situation in mainland China and cases of the abuse of modern advances in transplant surgery: “At the same time, the issue of human rights is more important to Prague than panda diplomacy. Personally, I totally reject trafficking in human organs.”
In an interview with NTD on March 29, Hrib spoke about the issue of the abuse of transplant surgery in China, recently discussed by the Czech Senate. He said: “The role of the Senate in this field is much more important than the city of Prague, but I have to say that for me as a doctor, this practice is absolutely unacceptable. The violent harvesting of organs is a totally unacceptable topic and the international community’s response should be very severe in this respect.”
Organ transplant abuse cases were also discussed by the European Parliament in 2013 and 2016, as well as by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016–both confirmed the authenticity of the reports on violent organ removal from Falun Gong adherents.
These are cases of involuntary donation—the violent removal of vital organs, causing the death of the involuntary donor. Since 2006, the number of experts who have begun to look into these practices in Chinese hospitals has risen and established several non-governmental investigative groups. After 2014, many of them joined and formed the coalition ETAC to fight for ethical standards in the Chinese organ transplant industry and to end violent organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience.
Hrib also rejects the “One-China” policy and made a remark during his Taiwan trip: “We also want to omit the ‘One-China’ policy from a partnership agreement with Beijing, because such proclamations do not belong in such agreements.”
Meeting With the Taiwanese President
Mayor Hrib was honored to meet Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen on March 30.
“Today I met the President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. It was one of the most important meetings of our whole trip and also one of the most pleasant meetings,” Hrib wrote on his Facebook account on March 30.
“I am pleased that the President and I share the same values such as sustainable development and liberal democracy. We definitely want to continue our cooperation,” he added.
Hrib also received an honorary citizenship from the Mayor of Taipei, Dr. Ko Wen-je.
According to Czech media Prazsky denik, Mayor Hrib has become a relatively famous person in Taiwan.