How Lithuania has caused the EU a major headache with China

Belarus protests: Lithuania won’t ‘interfere’ says Linkevičius

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Lithuania and China have been locked in a bitter row for several months with the rift escalating to such an extent that now the European Union is being called on to intervene. Lithuania’s challenge to China has been twofold – the autonomy of Taiwan and China’s withdrawal from the so-called 17+1 cooperation agreement.

The China-Lithuania conflict has escalated rapidly in the last few weeks with many geopolitical experts calling it an important diplomatic flashpoint.

After months of the EU choosing to not take any side, many are calling on the bloc to intervene on what they say is bullying of Lithuania from China.

Lithuania has joined the growing list of countries around the globe that have been subject to Chinese coercion and now the EU is being called upon to take action.

In August, Vilnius authorised Taiwan’s request to set up a “Taiwanese” representative office in the country.

The use of Taiwanese offended Beijing because the superpower nation claims ownership over the territory – preferring instead the name of Taipei be used.

The animosity between Lithuania and China escalated rapidly.

Vilnius said the move, which is the first of its kind in Europe, was not a challenge to Beijing’s “One China” policy.

But many see the move as the first step in officially recognising Taiwan as a separate country.

China was outraged by the move and recalled its ambassador in response, ensuring Lithuania withdraw its envoy.

Freight train services connecting Vilnius under China’s Belt and Road Initiative were also suspended.

New license applications from Lithuanian food exporters were also cancelled.

Lithuania had previously been hailed as an important export nation within the EU for Chinese fintech – but now this is highly unlikely.

A senior EU diplomat in China told Politico: “Beijing is sending a message that whoever follows Lithuania’s example, of daring to stand up to it, will face severe consequences.

“And such a message is best tested on a smaller country.”

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The European Union is now being forced to choose between Lithuania and China.

The USA last month backed Lithuania with Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighting the USA’s support for Vilnius in the face of attempted coercion from China.

But thus far, the EU has been reluctant to throw its support so openly behind either side.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell defended Lithuania but also was clear in his reassurance to Beijing that the EU was not questioning its “One China” policy.

Speaking to the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Mr Borrell said: “ The EU and its member states have the interest to develop cooperation with Taiwan, a like-minded and important economic partner in the region, without any recognition of statehood.”

Lithuania’s choice to face off with Beijing has brought EU relations with China to the forefront of the bloc’s agenda.

The topic of Taiwan has been highly contentious for decades, but how Vilnius is forcing the EU to make a real decision about its stance on the subject.

Many European countries sharing opinions on the topic for years, but now with Lithuania refusing to back down these leaders are unable to continue this tactic.

The warring between the nations has spread to other issues – including technology where last month Vilnius called on mobile phone users to stop using Chinese technology.

Lithuania urged consumers to throw away their Chinese phones and avoid buying new ones last month.

A report by its National Cyber Security Centre tested 5G mobiles from Chinese manufacturers and claims one Xiaomi phone had built-in censorship tools.

The report also found a Huawei model had security flaws.

Huawei said no user data is sent externally and Xiaomi said it does not censor communications.

But Lithuania’s Defence Ministry has contributed to urge people to get rid of their Chinese phones and Defence Deputy Minister Margiris Abukevicius said: “Our recommendation is to not buy new Chinese phones, and to get rid of those already purchased as fast as reasonably possible.”

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