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Experts warn of possible severing of diplomatic ties with Lithuania, as Chinese FM says ‘wait and see’

View of Vilnius, capital of Lithuania Photo: VCG

View of Vilnius, capital of Lithuania Photo: VCG

After the island of Taiwan opened its so-called representative office in Lithuania, sparking strong opposition and protest from the Chinese government, experts warned the most severe consequence the Baltic state will face could be severed diplomatic ties by China, and that more countermeasures by China such as sanctions and restrictions of business ties could be imposed on political figures from Lithuania, who have colluded with the secessionist DPP authority on the island and blatantly violated the one-China principle and international rules.

Shortly after the island announced opening its so-called representative office in Lithuania on Thursday using the title “Taiwan” instead of “Taipei” – an apparent provocation to the foundation of China- Lithuania relations, the Chinese government condemned the act for severely violating the one-China principle, vowing to take all necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty. 

The attempts to create a “one China, one Taiwan” landscape flagrantly violates the one-China principle, abandons Lithuania’s political commitment in the communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic relations between Lithuania and China, undermines China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a statement late Thursday night. 

Chinese diplomats in Europe also voiced strong opposition to such provocation. Zhang Ming, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, said some people may think playing the “Taiwan card” would be good tactic to damage China’s interests, but such conduct won’t change the fact that the island belongs to China.

“It will only strengthen the determination of the Chinese people in safeguarding sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as achieving reunification,” he said. 

On Friday, both the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council condemned Lithuania’s blatant interference in China’s internal affairs. 

“We urge certain countries to adhere to the one-China principle and deal with the Taiwan question carefully, and not go further down the wrong path of supporting secessionist forces on the island,” Zhu Fenglian, spokesperson of the office, told reporters on Friday. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian

Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry, said the opening of a so-called Taiwan representative office in Lithuania is extremely egregious, which is blatant interference in China’s internal affairs. “Just wait and see what measures China will impose. Lithuania will pay for its own mistakes,” he told a press conference on Friday. 

In the eyes of Chinese experts, as a very small country, Lithuania has been stubbornly advancing a strategy of wooing the US by playing the loyal puppet on the Taiwan question and in doing so is  putting itself in a dangerous position. The European country will eventually pay a heavy political and economic price for violating established international rules. China is expected to take tough measures in response to such reckless move to prevent more anti-China political figures following suit, some experts said. 

Heavy price to pay

The launch of “Taiwan representative office” is seen as another escalation following China recalling its ambassador to Lithuania in August, marking a new round of fracture in the relationship between China and the country in the Baltic region, as the country has been standing at the anti-China forefront by infringing upon China’s core interests on the Taiwan question. 

“The Chinese government will adopt necessary measures to prevent the impact of this situation from further expanding, and one of the most severe consequences could be severing diplomatic relations, which could be one of the consequences as China needs to safeguard the one-China principle,” said Li Fei, a professor from the Taiwan Research Institute at Xiamen University.

For certain political figures in Lithuania who have taken a high-profile stance in an anti-China campaign, it’s necessary to take countermeasures such as implementing sanctions, and limiting or prohibiting them from having business cooperation with Chinese companies or institutions, Li told the Global Times on Friday. 

Some anti-China forces in Lithuania have been growing in influence over the past 12 months. For example, Lithuanian lawmaker Dovile Sakaliene, who led parliamentary efforts to accuse China on Xinjiang-related issues, and who is already on the sanction list of the Chinese government, has been one of the vocal figures with hardline rhetoric on China. 

Gintaras Steponavicius, a former legislator who helped arrange a lobbying group for the island, the Taiwan Discussion board, has also criticized China on other issues such as human rights and the country’s diplomacy. The Lithuanian politician has been also actively advancing economic and cultural ties with Taiwan island. 

Aside from the historical influence of Lithuania being the state to declare independence from the Soviet Union, the country’s political changes have led to an ideological-driven diplomacy, which also became an internal factor of Lithuania’s anti-China crusade, according to experts. Meanwhile, the role of Taiwan island’s DPP authority of helping fuel Lithuania’s strategy of being a cannon fodder for US anti-China tactics can’t be neglected. 

Taiwan island has been busy investing in some European politicians and think tanks. Lithuania has now become the most reckless actor in provoking China, echoing the anti-China sentiment in the island, Wang Yiwei, director of the institute of international affairs at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Friday. 

“We need to punish those political figures and make them feel the pain, otherwise, these provocative tactics will set a bad example for other anti-China figures and institutions in European countries like Czech Republic,” Wang said. 

It’s an open secret that the DPP is paying bribes to European lawmakers as a major way of lobbying to increase their so-called political influence. For instance, German MP Mark Hauptmann resigned over lobbying scandal, as Azerbaijan, Vietnam and Taiwan island had sponsored travel ads in a local newspaper which he was publisher, according to media reports. 

There has been frequent interaction between the political figures in Lithuania and the secessionist DPP authority lately. Former “vice president” Chen Chien-jen visited the country and was scheduled to attend a forum in Vilnius from Friday to Saturday at the invitation of Lithuania Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis. 

While some experts have suggested that Lithuania’s dangerous move of provoking China will also jeopardize its own economic interests, the suspension of rail links between China and Lithuania will also deliver a major blow to Lithuania’s economy. 

Although international freight was battered last year amid the pandemic, Lithuania became a new European postal hub, seeing a record of 33 full postal trains between the end of 2019 and July 2020.

Also, from January to April 2021, trade between the Chinese mainland and Lithuania was $804.57 million, up 21 percent year-on-year. Lithuania’s trade with Taiwan island during the same period was only $45.9 million.   

On whether Chinese companies may cut off rail links with Lithuania amid escalating diplomatic tensions, Gao Feng, spokesperson of the Ministry of Commerce, was quoted as saying in August that Lithuania openly violated the spirit of the Communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic ties with China, seriously damaged China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and has seriously affected Chinese enterprises’ confidence in carrying out mutually beneficial cooperation.

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