China warns against travel to Czech Republic as tensions rise over Taiwan

·3 min read

China has warned its citizens against travelling to the Czech Republic amid tensions between the two countries over Taiwan.

In a brief statement on Friday, the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism said Chinese citizens should “by no means travel to the Czech Republic” because of “signs of a quick rebound in the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The European country had previously been applauded for its success in tackling the epidemic but earlier this week it reported more than 1,000 coronavirus cases in one day for the first time, prompting authorities to tighten mask-wearing requirements indoors.

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China has largely restricted overseas travel since March and although Beijing cited the spike in infections as the reason for the warning, it came soon after a high-profile visit by a Czech politician to Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own.

Late last month, Czech Senate president Milos Vystrcil made an official trip to Taiwan, the most senior politician from the central European country to visit the self-ruled island in 16 years.

Beijing has vowed to take back the island and sees any official visit to Taiwan by foreign politicians as a challenge to its sovereignty.

During his trip in Germany last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned that Beijing would not sit back after the “public provocation” by Vystrcil and threatened to make him “pay a heavy price” for the visit to Taiwan.

The Czech Republic is one of Europe’s hottest destinations for Chinese tourists, with an estimated 612,000 Chinese travellers visiting the country last year. According to Czech government figures, China is the fourth-biggest source for tourists to the country, after Germany, Slovakia and Poland.

Dubbed “walking wallets”, more middle-class Chinese are travelling to destinations all over the world but are also increasingly used as a veiled means for Beijing to exert pressure on other governments.

In June, Beijing warned its citizens against visiting Australia because of “an increase in acts of racial discrimination against Chinese and Asians due to the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The authorities offered no specific examples and the warning was widely seen as part of Beijing’s response to Canberra’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, in a move widely seen as an effort to pressure the independence-leaning administration of President Tsai Ing-wen, Beijing unexpectedly announced restrictions on travel to Taiwan, citing the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s “consistent efforts to push Taiwanese independence activities and incite hostility to the mainland”.

Beijing also used similar tactics in 2016 against South Korea over Seoul’s decision to host a US-backed anti-missile system, dealing a heavy blow to the South Korean tourism industry.

In November 2017, Beijing stopped group tours to the Pacific island of Palau in an apparent effort to pressure Palau to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

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