Lithuanian vice minister of foreign affairs Arnoldas Pranckevičius told a security forum in Washington that China’s treatment of Lithuania is a “wake up call” for Europe.
It follows a row over Taiwan’s office in Vilnius, which it announced would be called the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania in August.
The Baltic country authorized the request for the name, leading to China recalling its ambassador, demanding that Lithuania withdraw its envoy in Beijing, and threatening further “political consequences”.
China also suspended freight train services connecting Vilnius under China’s Belt and Road Initiative and cancelled the new licenses that Lithuanian food exporters had applied for.
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Beijing claims democratically-governed Taiwan as its own territory and any suggestions that the island is a separate country is met with anger.
Wang Wenbin, a foreign ministry spokesman, said: “We urge the Lithuanian government to abide by the solemn political commitments made when establishing diplomatic relations with China and not to make irreversible wrong decisions.”
While only 15 countries have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, many others have de facto embassies, which are often termed trade offices and use the name of the city Taipei – avoiding a reference to the island itself in what is understood to be an attempt to evade conflict.
Calling for EU member countries to be united in their relations with Beijing, Mr Pranckevičius said on Wednesday: “If you want to defend democracy you have to stand up for it.”
Lithuania, a country of about 3 million people, has this year also withdrawn from a “17+1” dialogue mechanism between China and some Central and Eastern European countries.
Its decision to leave, Pranckevičius said, was not an anti-China, but a pro-Europe move.
The US views the 17+1 mechanism as an effort by Beijing to divide European diplomacy.
The has not explicitly come out in defence of Lithuania so far, although the European Commission has expressed its position on aggressive behaviour towards its member states.
Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel wrote in a letter to the Formosa Club, a cross-party alliance of European and Canadian legislators that want to enhance relations with Taiwan: “Let us stress that threats, political pressure and coercive measures directed against EU member states are not acceptable.
“We will push back against such actions.”
Tensions with the world’s most populous country are sparking trade disruptions and posing a risk to Lithuanian economic growth, but Mr Pranckevičius’s stance remains firm: “We have to speak in a united and coherent way.
“Otherwise we cannot be credible, we cannot defend our interests, and we cannot have an equal relationship with Beijing.”
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