Incoming Czech leader Petr Pavel talks to Zelensky, plans Taiwan call

Mr Petr Pavel is a staunch supporter of Ukraine and of its bid to join the EU PHOTO: REUTERS

PRAGUE - Czech president-elect Petr Pavel spoke with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday, a day after winning the election, and is planning a call with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, his team said.

Mr Pavel, a retired general who served as the head of Nato’s military committee in 2015-2018, beat populist billionaire Andrej Babis in the presidential run-off.

He will take the oath on March 9 and replace divisive incumbent Milos Zeman, who promoted friendly ties with China and Russia until Moscow invaded Ukraine last February.

Analysts told AFP that Mr Pavel’s approach would be very different from Mr Zeman’s, with a strong pro-Western drive and focus on ties with the European Union and Nato.

Mr Pavel, a staunch supporter of war-torn Ukraine and of its bid to join the EU, spoke with Mr Zelensky by telephone on Sunday.

“I personally congratulated Petr Pavel on winning the Czech presidential elections,” Mr Zelensky tweeted.

“Thanked him and the Czech people for their unwavering support. Invited him to visit Ukraine,” he added.

Mr Pavel said in a TV debate before the vote that his first foreign visit would be to neighbouring Slovakia, as is the custom, followed by Ukraine.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia formed a single country, Czechoslovakia, until their peaceful split in 1993.

Mr Pavel would like to visit Kyiv in the spring together with Slovak President Zuzana Caputova, who visited Prague last Saturday to congratulate him on the election victory.

Leaders such as German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, France’s Emmanuel Macron and European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen have congratulated Mr Pavel on his victory.

He also received a letter from Taiwan President Tsai.

“A phone call (with Ms Tsai) is scheduled for Monday,” Mr Pavel’s spokesman Marketa Rehakova told AFP.

In an interview with the public Czech Radio, Mr Pavel said he would support his country’s links with Taiwan, a major investor in the Czech Republic.

China is trying to keep Taipei isolated on the world stage and prevents any sign of international legitimacy for the island. China views Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified by force, if necessary.

Prague officially pursues the one-China policy, just like the EU, but Czech officials foster close ties with the island.

Mr Pavel said the one-China policy should be supplemented with a “two-system” principle.

“There is nothing wrong if we have specific relations with Taiwan, which is the other system,” Mr Pavel said.

“It is definitely in our interest to retain active business and maybe also scientific relations with Taiwan,” he added.

The Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday it was in touch with Prague over Mr Pavel’s scheduled call with Ms Tsai. AFP, REUTERS

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