ANALYSIS – In an unexpected development, in 2021, the small, but heroic Baltic nation of Lithuania has emerged as China’s staunchest critic in the European Union (EU). And now, Beijing has recalled its ambassador to Lithuania in protest over the Baltic state’s July decision to allow Taiwan – which Beijing claims as its own – to open a diplomatic outpost in Lithuania’s capital of Vilnius.
But that’s not all.
This new diplomatic office would be the independent, self-ruled island’s first such de facto embassy in Europe to bear the name “Taiwan,” instead of the customary “Taipei.” And that must have blown China’s leader-for-life, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chairman Xi Jinping’s top off.
In response to Lithuania’s decision, China’s foreign ministry made the announcement on Tuesday that it was recalling its envoy to Lithuania, Shen Zhifei, over Taiwan’s move to open the de facto embassy and demanding that the Lithuanian government recall its ambassador to China, Diana Mickeviciene. In its statement China’s foreign ministry said:
The decision brazenly violates the spirit of the communique on the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Lithuania and severely undermines China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Chinese government expresses its categorical opposition to this move.
We urge the Lithuanian side to immediately rectify its wrong decision, take concrete measures to undo the damage, and not to move further down the wrong path. We also warn the Taiwan authorities that ‘Taiwan independence’ is a dead end and any attempt at separatist activities in the international arena is doomed to fail.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that:
Wang Yiwei, director of the Centre for European Studies at Renmin University of China, said Beijing had been angered by Vilnius’ recent moves and recalling its envoy was not just a warning to Lithuania.
“This is also to tell other [Central and Eastern European] countries that they will not be able to get [economic] benefits if they challenge China’s bottom line,” Wang said. “The next step will be to cut ties if Lithuania is to go further and establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan.”
This was the first time China had recalled an ambassador from an EU member state under such circumstances and a spokesperson for the EU said it did not regard a representative office in, or from, Taiwan as a breach of the EU’s one-China policy, since it was not an embassy or consulate.
But Lithuanian responses to the CCP bullying were more defiant, as reported by SMCP:
“We don’t respond well to threats. We survived a Communist regime for over half a century and we are not responding to threats from the Russian authoritarian regime. We are a Western, independent country, and we are not going to allow China or Belarus or Russia to somehow dictate that,” said opposition Social Democratic Party MP Dovile Sakaliene, a vocal China critic who was sanctioned by Beijing in March.