China slams Lithuania’s plan to set up a representative trade office in Taiwan

Finbarr Bermingham
·3-min read

China has hit out at Lithuania’s plans to set up a representative trade office in Taiwan, after it emerged that the Baltic nation was exploring broader ties with Taipei.

At a press conference in Beijing on Thursday, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin urged Vilnius to “refuse to be taken advantage of by Taiwan separatist forces, and avoid doing anything detrimental to bilateral political mutual trust”.

“We are firmly against the mutual establishment of official agencies and official exchanges in all forms between the Taiwan region and countries having diplomatic relations with China including Lithuania,” Wang said, after authorities in Lithuania confirmed a plan to establish an office by the end of the year.

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Lithuania’s foreign ministry this week confirmed that it hoped to have an “enterprise office” established in Taiwan this year.

Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis also intimated that the country was edging closer to leaving the “17+1”, an informal trade group of China and 17 Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries founded in 2012.

He told local news outlet LRT.lt that Lithuania gets “almost no benefits” from the group and that it served to “divide” Europe.

Wang said China had “taken note of the news”, adding that China has “every confidence in its prospects”.

The group ran into trouble last month, after six members failed to send top-level representation for an online summit involving Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Lithuania to open Taiwan office, in sign of ‘17+1’ discontent with China

Taiwan’s foreign ministry welcomed Lithuania’s plans to open a branch in Taipei.

“We have noticed the reports about this and we welcome any move or plan that would deepen our friendly relations with Lithuania,” said Joanne Ou, the ministry’s spokeswoman. “Regarding Lithuania’s reported plan to establish a representative office in Taiwan, we do not have additional information at the moment.”

Lithuania has been steadily improving ties with Taiwan over the past couple of years, including lending support to the island’s bid to be an observer at the World Health Organization, a move rejected by China.

Taiwan’s former highest representative to the Baltics, Andy Chin, was invited to address the country’s parliament on the same day as President Gitanas Nausėda’s state-of-the-nation speech.

Chin told the South China Morning Post that he “was very happy to learn that Lithuania is interested in setting up trade office in Taipei”, adding that it would “greatly enhance and advance bilateral ties”.

Analysts thought Lithuania’s overtures could encourage Taiwan to “to step up efforts to woo CEE countries to its side”.

“Probably beginning with the recalcitrant Baltic states, perhaps by offering some financial incentives to cooperation,” said Jeremy Garlick, director at the Jan Masaryk Centre for International Studies in Prague.

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“Beijing will therefore need to demonstrate that it is offering more to CEE countries than empty words and a moribund ‘cooperation platform’ which produces little to no results in terms of Chinese investment and exports of CEE goods to China,” he added.

Łukasz Kobierski, chief executive of the Polish think tank Institute of New Europe, said that the arrival of the Joe Biden administration in Washington may also have played into Vilnius’ thinking.

“Because they are not seeing a future in cooperation with China, Lithuania decided to cooperate with Taiwan, which is an ally of the United States, and similarly to Lithuania, is counting on an American security umbrella,” he said.

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