The U.S. State Department and some members of Congress on Aug. 10 voiced support for Lithuania, after China threw a diplomatic tantrum over the Baltic nation’s decision to allow Taiwan to open an office in Vilnius under its own name.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price pauses while speaking during a briefing at the State Department in Washington on Aug. 2, 2021. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
On Tuesday, China’s foreign ministry recalled its ambassador to Lithuania and demanded it recall its ambassador to China. The ministry said the Baltic nation “brazenly violates” the ties between China and Lithuania, and it warned that there would be “potential consequences” if the Taiwan office were indeed opened.
“We do stand in solidarity with our NATO ally Lithuania and we condemn the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China’s] recent retaliatory actions,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told a briefing on Aug. 10.
He added, “We support our European partners and our allies as they develop mutually beneficial relations with Taiwan and resist the PRC’s coercive behavior.”
Price said there are benefits for countries to engage with Taiwan, since the self-ruled island is “a global leader in public health, advanced manufacturing, and democratic governance.”
“Each country should be able to determine the contours of its own ‘one-China’ policy without outside coercion,” Price said.
Many countries, including the United States, have long held a “one-China policy,” which asserts that there is only one sovereign state with the name “China.” The Chinese regime demands nations accept its “one-China principle” under which Beijing asserts sovereignty over Taiwan.
Taiwan, a de facto independent nation with its own military and constitution, establishes trade offices that act as de facto embassies in countries without formal relations. For example, Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the United States is called the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States.
This general view shows the Lithuanian Embassy in Beijing on Aug. 10, 2021. (Jade Gao/AFP via Getty Images)
Neither Washington nor Vilnius has formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The self-ruled island currently has 15 diplomatic allies, with the Vatican being the only one in Europe.
The Taipei Mission in the Republic of Latvia (TMIL) handles affairs between Taiwan and the three Baltic nations—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Lithuania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement, expressed regret over China’s decisions. However, the ministry added that the country is “determined to pursue mutually beneficial ties with Taiwan like many other countries in the European Union and the rest of the world do.”
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told Reuters on Tuesday that, “We are considering our next moves.”
China’s hawkish state-run media Global Times, in an op-ed published on Tuesday, said Beijing’s diplomatic actions against Lithuania are a warning to the rest of the world.
“If the Chinese government does not take action, it may leave the rest of the world a false impression that countries that offend China over Taiwan will not get punished,” it stated.
The outlet’s editor-in-chief, Hu Xijin, slammed Lithuania as a “crazy, tiny country” and a “U.S. running dog” in an article. He said the Baltic country will “eventually pay the price.”
Several U.S. lawmakers took to Twitter to voice support for Lithuania.
“The PRC’s punitive diplomacy will not silence democratic nations in their support for #Taiwan, a shining example of democracy in the Indo-Pacific,” wrote Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“Free nations, like #Lithuania, have the right to engage with a fellow democracy. We must all stand up to the #CCP’s aggression.”
Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.) applauded Lithuania for “remaining firm in their relations with Taiwan,” despite pressure from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“Taiwan is a crucial ally for our struggle against the evils of Beijing’s communism,” he added.
Taiwanese sailors salute the island’s flag on the deck of the Panshih supply ship after taking part in annual drills at the Tsoying naval base in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on Jan. 31, 2018. (Mandy Cheng/AFP via Getty Images)
In July, Lithuania announced that it will open a trade office in Taiwan’s capital Taipei in autumn this year.
In recent months, Lithuania has not been shy about voicing its criticism of the Chinese regime. In May, it decided to withdraw from China’s “17+1” cooperation platform, which it joined in 2012. In the same month, the country’s parliament passed a resolution calling out the communist regime’s treatment of Uyghurs in China’s far-western Xinjiang region as “genocide.”
On Tuesday, Lithuania’s foreign ministry stated it stood with Canada in “condemning #China’s decision to uphold the death penalty of Robert Schellenberg.”
Schellenberg, a Canadian citizen who has been detained in China since 2014, had his appeal struck down in a Chinese court on Aug. 10. He was sentenced to death in 2018 over a drug case.
On Aug. 11, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs took to its Twitter account to applaud Lithuania for its “courageous [and] principled stance” on Taiwan.
“As forces for good, we’ll continue working together to safeguard freedom & democracy for the benefit of our citizens,” the Taiwanese ministry wrote.