Zdenk Hib: the Czech mayor who defied China
By refusing to expel a Taiwanese diplomat, the Prague mayor has joined the ranks of local politicians confronting contentious national policies
Zdenk Hib had been Pragues mayor for little more than a month when he came face-to-face with the Czech capitals complex entanglement with China.
Hosting a meeting with foreign diplomats in the city, Hib was asked by the Chinese ambassador to expel their Taiwanese counterpart from the gathering in deference to Beijings one China policy, under which it claims sovereignty over the officially independent state of Taiwan.
Given recent Chinese investments in the Czech Republic, which have included the acquisition of Slavia Prague football club, a major brewery and a stake in a private TV station, the fledgling mayor could have easily agreed. Prague city council had, under the preceding mayor, signed a twin cities agreement with Beijing that explicitly recognised the one China policy.
Instead, Hib refused and the Taiwanese diplomat stayed.
The episode is a rare case of a local politician defying the might of a global superpower while making a principled stand against a national government policy that has promoted Chinese ties.
It also adds him to the ranks of mayors who have confronted contentious national policies, including US Democrats such as Bill de Blasio of New York and Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, who have opposed the anti-immigration drive of the US president, Donald Trump, and declared their fiefdoms sanctuary cities.
Closer to home, Hibs conduct invites comparison with the late mayor of Gdask, Pawe Adamowicz, after whom he renamed a Prague street following Adamowiczs murder in January. Adamowicz offered his city as a haven for refugees and adopted liberal positions at odds with the hardline policies of Polands conservative Law and Justice party (PIS) government.
Hib has since gone further, demanding Beijing officials drop the clause stating Pragues support for the one China policy in the 2016 deal and threatening to scrap the arrangement if they refuse.
This article is a one-sided declaration that Prague agrees with and respects the one China policy and such a statement has no place in the sister cities agreement, Hib said in an interview in Pragues new town hall, close to the citys historic tourist district, which draws an increasing number of visitors from China.
The one China policy is a complicated matter of foreign politics between two countries. But we are solving our sister cities relationship on the level of two capital cities.
Hib, a 38-year-old doctor who spent a medical training internship in Taiwan, is challenging the Czech president, Milo Zeman, who has visited China several times, installed a Chinese adviser at his office in Prague castle and declared that he wanted to learn how to stabilise society from the countrys communist rulers.
The dispute has catapulted the unassuming Hib to household name status in Czech politics, helped by Pragues position as an international cultural draw and its outsize share of national resources.
Hibs rise from obscurity is striking because Czech mayors, unlike their US and Polish counterparts, are not directly elected. He became mayor of a coalition administration after his Pirate party, a liberal group with roots in civil society, finished second in last Octobers municipal elections.
He says he is merely adopting the policy of his party and its two coalition partners in taking decisions that are cooling Pragues relations with Beijing.