The East is burning with a new Lithuania

Marina Kovalenko

Lithuania became the first EU country to find itself almost on the verge of breaking off diplomatic relations with China. On Saturday, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry will recall its ambassador to Beijing for consultations in response to a similar measure by the PRC Foreign Minis-try. The conflict was provoked by the decision of the Lithuanian authorities to open a diplomatic mission of Taiwan in the country, whose independence is strongly rejected by the Chinese authorities. Washington express-ed solidarity with Vilnius, stood up for the Baltic republic and European countries. China, on the other hand, began to curtail trade relations with Lithuania, sending a signal to other EU countries.

On Saturday, Lithuanian Ambassador to China Diana Mitskevichene will return home for consultations. This was reported on Friday by the Lithuanian F-oreign Ministry, indicating that the Vilnius Embassy in Beijing will continue to work “as usual.” The ministry clarified: the measure is related to the decision taken on August 10 by the Chinese side to recall the Chinese Ambassador to Lithuania Shen Zhifei for consultations.

Relations between the two countries escalated on July 20, when the Lithua-nian Foreign Ministry announced Taiwan’s plans to open its “office” in Vilnius.

The head of the island’s administration, Tsai Ing-wen, “happily” confirming this news on Facebook, called the Lithuanians “like-minded friends.” The head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan, Joseph Wu, clarified: it is about the opening of the “Taiwan representative office in Lithuania”.

The wording is extremely important here, every word has a geopolitical background. “There is also a Taiwanese office in Moscow, but it does not cause a harsh reaction, because its name does not contain the word“ Taiwan ”. It is important that the name includes Taipei – the main city of the island. China admits that under this name the island can participate in international affairs, “Aleksandr Lomanov, deputy director of IMEMO RAN, explained to Kommersant. For this reason, the representative office in Moscow is called the “Moscow-Taipei Coordination Commission for Economic and Cultural Cooperation.”

The reaction from the Chinese authorities was immediate.

“We urge to observe the principle of one China and the obligations assumed after the establishment of diplomatic relations,” stre-ssed the representative of the PRC Foreign Ministry Zhao Lijian. And he war-ned: the independence of Taiwan is a “dead end”, “a-ttempts to create two China in the international arena” are doomed to failure.

The decision of the PRC to recall the ambassador from Vilnius on August 10 did not come as a surprise to the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry. “Many people said that China would give an answer to the opening of a representative office of Taiwan,” said the head of the department, Gabrielus Landsbergis. And he stressed that the republic has the right to build economic relations “both with Taiwan and with other states in the region.” Note that Lithuania does not officially recognize the independence of Taiwan.

They are trying to bring us to our knees and turn us into a second-rate state that can be punished. We want equal relations with China, ”the chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign policy Zhigimantas Pavilenis was indignant on the air of the national radio LRT.

The next day, August 11, the United States stood up for Lithuania. “We support our ally Lithuania and condemn China’s actions,” said US State Department spokesman Ned Price. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said a little later about “indestructible solidarity” with Lithuania, “facing pressure from the PRC”. A statement in support of Vilnius was also adopted by the chairmen of the parliamentary committees on foreign policy of Great Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Ukraine. “Intervention in the affairs of a member state of the EU and NATO is not an acceptable practice,” the document says. In response, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that if anyone conducts “coercive diplomacy,” it is the United States.

Recall that Beijing considers Taiwan to be part of the PRC within the framework of the “one China” policy. The island has been ruled by its own administration since 1949 after Chiang Kai-shek moved there along with the remnants of the Kuomintang party after being defeated in a civil war by communist forces led by Mao Zedong. The sovereignty of Taiwan, which calls itself the Republic of China, is recognized by less than 20 states in the world. These are mainly small countries such as Eswatini, Nauru, H-onduras. Among the Europ-ean – only the Vatican. Moreover, the number of such states is constantly decreasing. In 2017, Pan-ama went to sever diplom-atic relations with Taiwan, and in 2018 – El Salvador. The Taiwan Office in Lithuania will be the first of its kind in Europe.

It should be noted that relations between Vilnius and Beijing began to deteriorate not yet. Until 2019, Lithuania tried to maintain positive relations with China. Back in 2018, the then President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite, while in Beijing, called cooperation with the PRC “important” and very profitable. She noted that the Baltic republic can supply quality food to the Chinese market. The situation began to change as the trade wars between the United States and China intensified. In 2019, the Lithuanian State Security Department called China a threat for the first time. Then Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said that he sees a threat in Chinese investments in Lithuanian ports. This was followed by a scandal with the Huawei corporation, which planned to deploy a fifth generation mobile network in Lithuania. Vilnius accused her of espionage.

The course towards exacerbation of relations continued this year as well. In February, members of two parliamentary committees of the Seimas of Lithuania began to prepare a draft resolution on the situation of the Uighurs in the “authoritarian communist” PRC. In this regard, MP Deauile Shakalene even promised to seek an international investigation of the “crimes of Beijing”. Then, in March, Vilnius announ-ced plans to open a trade and economic office in Taiwan in the fall. And in May, Lithuania left the “17 + 1” forum for cooperation between Eastern and Ce-ntral Europe and China, w-hich became “16 + 1” as a result, and urged other participants to follow its example.

“Lithuania has thus supported the Americans and part of the European Un-ion,” Andrei Ostrovsky, he-ad of the Center for Eco-nomic and Social Research of China at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sci-ences, expressed confidence in an interview with Kommersant. Beijing and Vilnius, the expert said, “will live well” without ea-ch other, because the level of their economic cooperation is minimal, which cannot be said about other large EU member states.

Against the background of the scandal with the “re-presentation” of Taiwan in Lithuania, it became known that Beijing has begun to curtail trade and economic relations with Vilnius, starting with the refusal of cargo transportation.

According to the UN (UN Comtrade), in 2020 Lithuania’s exports to China amounted to only $ 357.7 million, while imports from China – $ 1.8 billion. … According to Eurostat, China in 2020 became the EU’s largest trading partner for the first time, overtaking the United States. This happened against the backdrop of an increase in exports from the EU to China (2.2%) and imports to the EU from China (5.6%) – to a total trade of € 586 billion.

“The economic logic in Vilnius’s decision to open a representative office of Taiwan clearly does not work,” Alexander Loman-ov also concluded. “In the early 90s, the logic of such a decision would have been politically shaky, but economically explainable, because then there was a mirage of inexhaustible Taiwanese investments. In those years, Taiwan was a thriving market economy. ” According to the expert, in Lithuania, apparently, they hope to compensate for the loss of cooperation with China from the United States – in economic and military-political terms.

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