China has cut diplomatic ties with Lithuania after the Baltic states upgraded economic ties with Taiwan, and risks retaliation from Beijing if EU member states seek to deepen ties with Taipei.
China has said it decided to cut ties with Lithuania from ambassador to charge d’affaires to protest the country’s decision to open a representative office in Taipei last week. A representative office is not the equivalent of an official diplomatic relationship but it is an indication of deepening the relationship.
“This law openly creates a false sense of ‘one China, one Taiwan’ in the world, abandons the political commitment made by Lithuania to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, and undermines China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” And interferes extensively in China’s internal affairs, “the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.
Beijing claims that Taiwan is an integral part of China’s sovereign territory and opposes formally engaging with the democratically elected government in Taipei.
Lithuania says it regrets Beijing’s decision and reiterates its commitment to the “one-China policy”.
The Foreign Ministry added that the relations were based on economic interests, adding that it “has the right to take and establish non-diplomatic missions to expand cooperation with Taiwan and ensure the real development of such relations, as many other countries do.” .
Beijing’s latest response to Lithuania comes amid a growing trend of warming relations between Central and Eastern European countries and Taiwan.
Vilnius believes it has been singled out by China, although most EU member states and Western governments have similar arrangements with Taiwan.
Chinese and Lithuanian ambassadors have already been withdrawn from the capital as a result of the establishment of a mutual representative office with Taiwan.
“We urge the Lithuanian side to immediately correct its mistake and not to underestimate the determination, will and ability of the Chinese people to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
Taiwan is seen by many security experts and officials as a dangerous flashpoint between the United States and China. Beijing has increased pressure on Taiwan in the diplomatic, military and economic spheres since 2016, when the Democratic Progressive Party, led by President Xi Jinping, seized power, replacing the more Beijing-friendly Kuomintang.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda told the Financial Times in August that the Baltic state would not back down. He added that while the country is committed to upholding democratic values, the approach “should not bring extra tension”.
Vilnius has taken an increasingly firm stance towards China in recent months. The government has pulled out of the 17 + 1 group set up by Beijing to deal with Central and Eastern European countries, condemned China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and banned Huawei from its telecom infrastructure.
Some governments and lawmakers are reconsidering their relationship with China because they are increasingly fearful of Beijing’s authoritarian tendencies and disillusioned with economic opportunities in the world’s second-largest economy.
A group of members of the European Parliament visited Taipei this month to show their support for Taiwan.
Separately, Australia’s defense minister said it was “unthinkable” that the country would not support the United States in its defense of Taiwan.
China’s foreign ministry has issued a “stern warning” to the Taiwanese government for its efforts to seek foreign support.
“No matter how much Taiwan’s independence forces try to misrepresent information and try to confuse black and white, it is a historical fact that the mainland and Taiwan belong to one and the same China,” the ministry said.
Lithuania is also under intense pressure from neighboring Belarus, where Alexander Lukashenko’s regime has lured thousands of migrants to its borders.