In late November 2021, Lithuania infuriated Beijing by allowing Taiwan to open a
representative office in Vilnius, equivalent to an embassy. The representative office
opened with the name “Taiwan Representative Office in Lithuania”, thereby implicitly
implying recognition of a legal entity separate from the mainland. Taiwan’s offices in other
countries do not use the country’s name, but instead use the name of its capital Taipei.
Consequently, Beijing attacked the Lithuanian decision with all its might. It retaliated
by lowering its diplomatic relations with Lithuania. In addition, this month Beijing also
demanded that Lithuanian officials surrender their identity documents in order to
downgrade their diplomatic status. The demand was such a serious concern for Lithuania
that Vilnius withdrew its remaining diplomats from China in mid-December, fearing for their
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman noted that this act ‘creates a false
impression of ‘one China, one Taiwan’ in the world, violates the one China principle,
undermines China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and grossly interferes in China’s
internal affairs’. Threatening the Lithuanian government for this decision, the spokesman
went on to state that “the Chinese government will take all necessary measures to protect
national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Lithuanian side bears responsibility for all
the resulting consequences”.
Further, China has suspended the movement of freight trains connecting Vilnius as
part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It stopped processing Lithuanian food export
license applications. In early December 2021, it excluded Lithuania from its customs’
systems. The president of the Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists held that “it seems
that such a country [i.e. Lithuania] does not exist in the Chinese customs’ systems. This
creates additional problems for exporters.” No doubt Beijing will look for other ways to
force Lithuania into submission.
Lithuania’s support to the Taiwanese cause comes in the wake of its new ruling
coalition that came to power in 2020. The coalition includes two parties sympathetic to
Taiwan’s independence drive. One of them, the Freedom Party, included in its agenda,
support for full recognition of Taiwan as an independent state. On its part, Lithuania
continues to resist Chinese pressure, which is already going beyond diplomatic acrimony.
In the past as well, Lithuanian had taken on China by announcing a ban in
September 2021 on purchase of new and existing Chinese smart-phones in the country.
Lithuania’s Deputy Defence Minister had called on Lithuanians to refrain from buying and
avoiding use of existing Chinese smart-phones (mainly of Huawei, Xiaomi and OnePlus)
due to certain security gaps. The appeal was primarily addressed to about 2000
government agencies that were using Chinese devices.
The Baltic nation needs the support of the West and other foreign powers to counter
Chinese aggression. Washington announced its support for Lithuania’s decision. The EU,
on its part, warned of further consequences if Chinese pressure on Lithuania continues,
but did not specify what the consequences might be.2
Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on the West to unite
against China, arguing that the country’s communist leadership often “played” Western
countries against each other. He held that the problem stems from the fact that many
Western countries are trying to gain access to China’s huge market, allowing China to
dictate terms and pitting Western states against each other as competitors.
Lithuania seems to be struggling almost alone against one of the world’s economic
and political superpowers. It finds itself at the forefront of countries that identify China as
the greatest threat as it dared to openly oppose Chinese President Xi Jinping’s autocracy
and Beijing’s aggressive behaviour. It remains to be seen if the world community will come
together to stand in support of Lithuania against Chinese coercion.