Taiwan opens Lithuania office as China condemns ‘egregious’ move

Opening of de facto embassy follows months of rising tensions between Beijing and Vilnius

Ahmed Aboudouh
Friday 19 November 2021 11:58
Comments
<p>The new Taiwan Representative Office in Vilnius </p>

The new Taiwan Representative Office in Vilnius

Taiwan has opened a de facto embassy in Lithuania in a diplomatic breakthrough for the Chinese-claimed but self-ruled island that prompted Beijing to express its anger and warn of consequences.

Taipei announced on Thursday it had formally opened the office in the Baltic state – its first in Europe in 18 years – in defiance of a pressure campaign from Beijing.

The new diplomatic post will put an end to the use of the euphemism “Taipei” office in Vilnius - a common reference to Taiwan’s other diplomatic missions in Europe and the United States.

China considers Taiwan part of its territory and has threatened to annex it by force if necessary, which President Xi Jinping has described as a “historic mission”.

Beijing has long pressured other countries to cut their ties with Taiwan in order to maintain relations with China as part of the “One-China” policy recognised by the US, the UK and EU. Only 15 countries in the world have diplomatic ties with the self-ruled democratic island.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said late on Thursday the opening of the office would “charter a new and promising course” for ties between it and Lithuania, highlighting an economic potential in the growing bilateral relations.

“Taiwan will cherish and promote this new friendship based on our shared values,” the ministry sai

China’s Foreign Ministry said the move was a “crude inference” in the country’s internal affairs, describing the decision as an “extremely egregious act.”

“The Lithuanian side is responsible for all consequences arising therefrom,” it said. “We demand the Lithuanian side immediately correct its mistaken decision.”

In August, China withdrew its ambassador to Vilnius after Taiwan announced its office in the city would be called the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania.

China’s aggressive response to Lithuania was understood to be a warning shot to other European countries to discourage them from taking similar action.

Beijing’s irritation has also stemmed from Lithuania’s decision to open an embassy in Taipei at a future date unspecified yet.

Last year’s general election in Lithuania elevated a centre-right alliance to power. One of its central campaign slogans was a “values-based foreign policy”, indicating strong support of democratic states.

Since then, Lithuania has tended to adopt a more hawkish policy towards authoritarian countries, like China, Russia and Belarus.

Lithuania was also disappointed as China lagged behind on its investment promises as part of the “17+1” block with central and eastern Europe aimed at addressing a soaring trade deficit and benefitting from China’s blueprint Belt and Road Initiative projects.

Subsequently, the Baltic country has decided to withdraw from the “17+1” in May, calling on all EU members to pull out.

Beijing has concerns that the Lithuanian policies to carve out a more prominent diplomatic role for Taiwan in Europe would encourage a change in the status quo and unravel the consensus over the “One-China” policy.

“The attempts to create a ‘one China, one Taiwan’ landscape flagrantly violates the one-China principle… undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and grossly interfere in China’s internal affairs,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a statement late Thursday night.

Despite China’s threats of retaliation, doubts around its ability to coerce Lithuania to change tack are growing.

Analysts say the low rate of Chinese investment and economic engagement with Lithuania was seen as a blessing in Vilnius.

The recent shift in tone in Lithuania also reflects an overall changing sentiment in Europe towards the cross-strait issue. In October, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu toured Europe and made an unprecedented visit to Brussels and held discussions with European lawmakers. The visit triggered China’s wrath and attracted usual Chinese threats of counteractions.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in