(Bloomberg) -- Europe should approach an increasingly assertive China in sober terms and not be “pushed,” the Czech Republic’s incoming president said, brushing off criticism of his contact with Taiwan’s leader two days after his election. 

Petr Pavel, a retired top NATO general who drew a rebuke from Beijing on Tuesday after his call with Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen, said China is being “assertive” in seeking to shift the balance of geopolitical relations. 

“It’s definitely not a friend — it’s not, at this point, an enemy,” Pavel told Bloomberg Television in an interview in Prague Friday. “It’s a country based on entirely different values — their long term goals are different from ours.” 

Still, the tension doesn’t need to translate into conflict and the European Union member state can still pursue cooperation and a relationship based on “mutual respect,” Pavel said. 

China called Pavel’s phone call with Tsai a “blatant violation” of its claim on Taiwan, introducing fresh tension between Beijing and the European Union. The next president’s move made clear he aims to bolster ties with Taipei despite mounting pressure from China, which has pledged to bring the democratically run island under its control, by force if necessary. 

Pavel, who secured a solid victory over former billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis on Saturday, said the call was initiated by Tsai to congratulate him on his victory. He acknowledged the criticism from President Xi Jinping’s government, but said the Czech Republic will make its own decisions. 

“I’m not going to accept that the Chinese minister of foreign affairs or the Chinese ambassador in Prague would dictate to whom we can talk and about what,” Pavel said. “It’s our sovereign decision.”

The EU has been reassessing its relationship with China, which is increasingly viewed by the 27-member bloc as a competitor and rival on issues ranging from trade to human rights. 

“China becomes increasingly, not necessarily aggressive, but assertive in a number of areas and tries to move the balance in international relations,” Pavel said. “I believe it’s not in our interest to get pushed by China. We should really strive for balance and mutual respect.”

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