Ahead of the US-China Summit in San Francisco, China Creates Rift in NATO

As Biden meets Xi in San Francisco, mischief is afoot in NATO as the Czech Republic, close friend of Taiwan, initiates high level intelligence contacts with China. Czech National Security Advisor invokes Jake Sullivan’s name when confronted about the trip.

Pity the poor Biden Administration. Their idea of preparing for a summit with China is to clean out the homeless camps, drug markets, and sex workers. China’s summit prep includes exposing a secret high-level intelligence contact from one of our NATO allies. Biden and his national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, are on the back foot before the summit begins.

In early November, the national security advisor of the Czech Republic made a secret trip to China to meet with the Chinese Foreign Minister, among others. Tomas Pojar’s trip was kept secret until the Chinese government published details of the trip. Chinese media included a photo of Pojar accompanied by Director Vladimir Posolda of the Czech Foreign Intelligence Service (UZSI).

When news of the visit reached the Czech Republic, government officials were surprised and angry. To date, no high-ranking official has claimed credit for sending the delegation. More ominous, however, than the refusal of Pojar to divulge any information about the visit, is his implication that he went at the behest of Jake Sullivan, the American national security advisor.

When asked why he went to China, Pojar responded that he went to discuss trade relations, and to open a direct bilateral channel of communications. He also said that he had been in Washington just a few days earlier, meeting with Jake Sullivan. He told Lidovky, a Czech newspaper, “I was there for four days in total, so there were quite a few meetings, even with several congressmen. I had a total of three meetings at the National Security Council, with Sullivan and two other people, his deputies,” a few days before his China travel.

Pojar said initially that his discussions with Foreign Minister Wang were focused on restoring direct air connections and expanding bilateral trade. But when confronted with Chinese statements that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was the main foreign policy topic, he admitted that Ukraine came up.

“We talked about it, or rather I explained our positions and how we approach the conflict. The Chinese side explained its positions and, of course, there were also questions about support for both Ukraine and Russia from various countries of the world – including the Czech Republic and China.”

Czechia is considered one of Taiwan’s strongest friends in Europe. This outreach to China is certain to alarm the Taiwanese. Pojar did not admit to speaking about Taiwan. In full diplo-speak mode, he admitted only to talking about “the war zones of the world.”

The presence of the foreign intelligence director at the meetings is a sign that the countries discussed intelligence cooperation. This usually means either joint operations or intelligence sharing. The close relationship between Taiwan and the Czech Republic furnishes the Czechs with information that the PRC would be pleased to have. So also does the Czech access to sensitive U.S. technologies such as the F35 aircraft and CV90 combat vehicles that the Czechs will operate in the near future.

American national security officials should be asking exactly what intelligence cooperation the Czechs offered China in exchange for economic access. I asked the UZSI about their mutual policy objectives with PRC intelligence community. They responded only that they do not comment on intelligence matters.

The question remains why the Chinese leaked the meeting in the first place. And why especially did they disclose that the director of Foreign Intelligence also attended? That is a serious breach of normal international practice. The travels of intelligence directors are generally considered highly confidential matters.

I believe China made a deliberate choice. They decided that the price of breaching diplomatic confidentiality was worth paying, in exchange for the propaganda value they received for the leak. Xi used the Czech visit to demonstrate that Biden has no control over America’s greatest alliance. This is also Chinese boasting, rubbing Taiwan’s nose in Czechia’s eagerness to “establish direct bilateral communications” with Beijing.

I reached out to Prague’s national security advisor for comment, but received no answer. I asked the NSC and the State Department whether Pojar was sent to China by Sullivan, and whether Sullivan even knew that the visit was about to take place. A bright young duty officer at State was courteous enough to call during a federal holiday to say they had no comment, and to refer me to the NSC. Neither the NSC nor the White House press office had any comment.

This intelligence cooperation seems like a rogue maneuver by Pojar and Posolda, in light of the pro-Western and staunchly pro-Taiwan policy of Czech President Petr Pavel. The respected Czech counterintelligence (BIS) has issued several public warnings about growing Chinese espionage activity. So what gave rise to the secret trip?

There may be an explanation in recent history. The previous Czech president, Milos Zeman, was an admirer of Xi. He reached out to China, and frequently boasted about billions of dollars of putative PRC investment into the Czech economy. Those Chinese investments never materialized. But both Pojar and Posolda had close ties to Zeman and his inner circle of businessmen and diplomats.

The current Prime Minister, Petr Fiala, inherited Zeman’s cadre of senior officials. He has little understanding or control of their operations and relationships. Just as in Washington, the senior bureaucrats in Prague sometimes continue the policies of former leaders. It is likely that Pojar and Posolda are continuing the Zeman legacy of deepening the relationship with the PRC.

This troubling matter illustrates that America is no longer feared or respected. It is not customary for a NATO ally to take a secret trip to China to establish bilateral intelligence cooperation without consulting first with the U.S. It is also not customary for intelligence officials to reveal the nature of their meetings in Washington, once their trip became public. This is a serious sign of weakness in NATO, and lack of leadership by the Biden Administration.

And it is a terrible way to start off a summit.

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About Bart Marcois

Bart Marcois was the principal deputy assistant secretary of energy for international affairs during the George W. Bush administration. Marcois also served as a career foreign service officer with the State Department.

Photo: VILNIUS, LITHUANIA - JUNE 12, 2023: President of the Czech Republic Petr Pavel speaks to the media on the second day of the 2023 NATO Summit in Vilnius, on July 12, 2023, in Vilnius, Lithuania (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)