Posted 8 сентября 2021, 08:43

Published 8 сентября 2021, 08:43

Modified 24 декабря 2022, 22:38

Updated 24 декабря 2022, 22:38

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Pulling the Dragon's Tail: Lithuania throws down a challenge to China by Opening a Representative Office of Taiwan

8 сентября 2021, 08:43
Lithuania unexpectedly became one of China's loudest critics on the international stage.
Сюжет
Taiwan

Zintis Znotinsh, freelance journalist

The opening of a Taiwanese office in Lithuania using “Taiwan” instead of “Taipei” in the name is the last and loudest step by Lithuania, which angered China, but not the only one. In May, Lithuania withdrew from the Chinese "17 + 1" format, which China uses to develop cooperation with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. In addition, the Lithuanian parliament strongly condemned the crimes against humanity in China, as well as the genocide of the Uyghurs.

Why is the position of Lithuania so strikingly different from the position of Latvia or Estonia? Expert on China, Head of the Doctorate Program in Political Science at the Riga University. Stradina Una Alexandra Berzinya-Cherenkova points to several reasons. Economic cooperation with China has not been as fruitful as originally thought, and besides, China's main rival, the United States, is the most important guarantor of Lithuania's security.

There are two more aspects that distinguish Lithuania from its Baltic sisters. The first is the policy of anti-communist values pursued by the current Lithuanian government, especially the new Foreign Minister Gabrielus Landsbergis, the grandson of the Lithuanian freedom fighter Vytautas Landsbergis.

The second is a string of recent diplomatic incidents. So, on 23 August 2019, during events dedicated to the Baltic Way, several hundred people joined hands in Vilnius in solidarity with the citizens of Hong Kong. This led to a standoff with a group of pro-Chinese supporters. It was later reported that the counter-protest was organized by the Chinese ambassador to Lithuania. The next incident angered the Lithuanian public: a Chinese tourist desecrated the Hill of Crosses, that is, pulled out and threw out a cross with a message in support of Hong Kong. Finally, a Chinese government-controlled newspaper published an article claiming that the Baltic countries are worse off today than they were when they were part of the Soviet Union.

So far, nothing like this has happened either in Latvia or in Estonia, since their position, at least for the time being, differs from that of Lithuania. However, it can change.

Despite the fact that Lithuania has already taken several anti-Chinese steps, it was the opening of the Taiwanese representative office that provoked the sharpest reaction from China. It is well known that China is extremely sensitive to territorial issues, considering Taiwan a part of its territory and trying to isolate it on a global scale, including prohibiting the use of the name "Taiwan". Since it is more expensive to anger China, Taiwan missions around the world are called "Taipei missions".

In Lithuania, the Chinese decided to start by using diplomatic weapons. The ambassador of this country in Vilnius was recalled for consultations, and Lithuania was also demanded to recall its ambassador to Beijing, and in addition to correct the “wrong decision” regarding the Taiwanese representation. The Global Times, owned by the Chinese Communist Party newspaper, has published several critical articles on Lithuania. “China must unite with Russia and Belarus, two countries bordering Lithuania, and punish Lithuania”, - reads an editorial published on August 11.

When Lithuania refused to change its position, China resorted to economic measures. Over the past few weeks, Lithuanian manufacturers have reported that new export licenses are no longer being issued, the amount of available loans has been reduced, and rail transport has been suspended.

“On the one hand, this is serious, but on the other it seems that they are just waiting for us to give up. But this will not happen under the current government”, - said Gintaras Radauskas, a journalist with the Lithuanian news portal 15min.lt, adding the anti-communist policy of the Lithuanian authorities is clearly visible in the example of China's criticism of repressions against Hong Kong and Taiwan and for attempts to economically “beat” European countries.

It is not yet known how long this situation will last. The Lithuanian government has been actively criticized by the China-Baltic Industry and Business Association, which is responsible for developing trade relations with China. Its representatives say that this state of affairs harms both real people and their work.

However, you shouldn't worry too much for now. “The scale of Lithuania's cooperation with China cannot be compared closely with the scale of its ties with larger European countries. Given that the Lithuanian economy does not depend on China, it is unlikely that these measures will be a decisive factor, notes Berzina-Cherenkova, adding. - In the meantime, Lithuania is leaving the 17 + 1 format and is trying to diversify its representation in Asia by opening embassies in Singapore and South Korea, "explaining these steps by cooperation with prosperous and economically developed democracies in East Asia".

By the way, the US government has already expressed its support for Lithuania at the highest level. On August 21, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, during a telephone conversation with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielus Landsbergis, agreed that "unilateral aggressive actions and political pressure from China on Lithuania are unacceptable. Blinken promised that the United States will help Lithuania withstand Chinese pressure, but how exactly this will be done is not specified.

Europe is also on the side of Lithuania: in their joint statement by the heads of 11 European countries (including Latvia), the European Parliament "they call on Lithuania to adhere to the current course of counteracting China's aggressive behavior".

There are two possible scenarios for the further development of events: either China will find a way to deal with Lithuania and send a signal to other countries, or it will not risk further aggravating the already shaky relations with the European Union. Berzinya-Cherenkova believes that the latter is the most likely.

Does this mean that the rest of the Baltic states will follow the example of Lithuania?

Latvia is currently on standby. Berzina-Cherenkova argues that it is unlikely that Latvia or Estonia will be as active as Lithuania, since the latter's situation is motivated by internal factors that are not inherent in the rest of the Baltic states. “I believe that the Lithuanian scenario will not be implemented in the other Baltic countries - they can simply wait or slowly and imperceptibly withdraw from various formats of cooperation with China”.