Lithuania the Latest Centre of China-Taiwan Rift

Taiwanese representative office and Chinese sanctions . . . 

In November, Taiwan opened a representative office, a de facto embassy, in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. The move drew swift and stern condemnation from Beijing, which viewed the Baltic state's act as a challenge to its claim over Taiwan, which it describes as an "inalienable part of China's territory." Beijing subsequently downgraded the two states' diplomatic relations, recalled its ambassador, and initiated a series of economic boycotts ranging from banning the import of 20,400 bottles of rum and suspending the issuance of visas in Vilnius, to pressuring multinationals to cut ties with Lithuania. With growing domestic discontent over his country's policy toward China, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda has since admitted it was a mistake to let Taiwan open a representative office.

International community responds as Taiwan offers economic incentives . . .

Despite political pressure from Beijing, the escalating Sino-Lithuanian strife evoked interventions and responses from the international community. While U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed his concerns over "China's attempts to bully Lithuania," Germany's foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said the EU must stand in solidarity with the small Baltic state. Taiwan has offered economic support to Lithuania amid the latter's snowballing conflict with China. Symbolically, Taiwan purchased all the Lithuanian rum blocked by Beijing and announced plans to invest US$200 million in microchip production in the country and launch a US$1-billion bilateral credit fund.

What's next in China-Lithuania row?

The diplomatic spat between China and Lithuania offers insight into international competition amid China's rapid economic and geopolitical rise. Earlier this month, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, accused the U.S. of using Lithuania to "contain China." The U.S. and several European countries have signalled support for Vilnius, with Germany going so far as to suggest that its China policy may shift drastically, at least in part over the Lithuania issue. The Sino-Lithuanian tension could harden the division between the U.S. and its traditional allies on one side and China and its allies on the other. Asia Watch will keep you up to date as developments evolve.