The Czech Senate head declared himself a Taiwanese in a speech at Taiwan's legislature on Tuesday, channeling the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy who in 1963 famously called himself a "Berliner" to express U.S. solidarity with the citizens of then besieged West Berlin in defiance of Communism.
"I am a Taiwanese," Milos Vystrcil, who leads an 89-member delegation to Taiwan for a six-day visit that began Sunday, said in Mandarin Chinese to express his support for the self-ruled island, receiving standing ovation lasting for nearly a minute.
Quoting from Kennedy's 1963 speech in which he proclaimed "Ich bin ein Berliner," Vystrcil said, "Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free."
Vystrcil is the highest-level Czech politician to visit Taiwan to date.
Mainland China has reacted sharply against Vystrcil's remarks, saying he has overtly supported Taiwan independence forces.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters Tuesday that Vystrcil has "grossly violated China's sovereignty," adding, "We strongly criticize interference in China's internal affairs."
On Monday, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi described Vystrcil's visit as an unendurable provocation for which there will be retribution.
"The Chinese government and Chinese people won't take a laissez-faire attitude or sit idly by, and will make him pay a heavy price for his short-sighted behavior and political opportunism," Wang said in remarks that drew a diplomatic protest from the Czech government.
Vystrcil's visit is at the invitation of Legislative Speaker You Si-kun, making him the first parliament speaker of a foreign country to speak at Taiwan's legislature in 45 years and the first sitting legislative speaker of a country that does not have official ties with Taiwan to do so.
Before his speech, You presented Vystrcil the legislature's prestigious diplomatic medal in recognition of his "outstanding contribution to jointly safeguarding core values of freedom, democracy, rule of law and human rights" and "advancing friendly exchanges and cooperation" between the legislative bodies of Taiwan and the Czech Republic.
You praised Vystrcil for resisting China's pressure and threats to visit Taiwan, saying it not only proves Taiwan's existence in the international arena, but also paves the way for the future alliance of the two legislative bodies.
Fielding questions from the media after his talk, Vystrcil said his visit to Taiwan does not violate the "one China" principle, of which he said his country has its own interpretation.
Vystrcil said the purpose of his trip to Taiwan is threefold.
One goal is to seek cooperation partners for his country in the fields of trade, science and technology, communications, and research and development.
Another is to carry out parliamentary diplomacy with Taiwan which shares the same values of freedom and democracy.
Finally, his trip is to ensure the independence and sovereign integrity of his country.
"I don't think in a democratic world we should listen to the orders of other countries, especially non-democratic countries," he said.
He pointed out that 96 percent of the Czech Senate members voted in favor of the trip, even though President Milos Zeman's government does not support it.
Vystrcil was accompanied to Taipei by Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib, a strong supporter of Taiwan who scrapped his city's sister-city agreement with Beijing last October over Chinese pressure to recognize the "one China" policy.