Lithuania woos diplomats from China as relations with Taiwan deepen

Lithuania has pulled its remaining diplomats out of China out of concern for their safety, amid heightened bilateral tensions as Beijing retaliates against the Baltic nation’s efforts to strengthen ties. with Taiwan.

Audra Ciapiene, Lithuanian temporary advertisement in China, country most senior diplomat in Beijing after the ambassador was recalled in September, returned to Vilnius on Wednesday for consultations. The embassy will temporarily operate remotely, the State Department in Vilnius told the Financial Times.

According to three people familiar with the situation, the Chinese government has asked the remaining Lithuanian diplomats in Beijing to submit their diplomatic IDs to the foreign ministry to downgrade their diplomatic status. The move raised concerns in Vilnius that officials could lose their diplomatic immunity, putting their safety at risk if they stayed in China.

This explosion risks creating a dilemma for the EU about how to support one of its member states without having consequences for the others in the face of Beijing’s response. It will also likely spark international discussions about how democracies might respond to Chinese coercion.

“China is sending a message to other European countries that sanctions will be very harsh if you follow the example of Lithuania, so people want to deal with this,” said a Western diplomat in Beijing. with caution”. “But at the same time, we must make it clear that steps against a member state are steps against the EU.”

The evacuation of diplomats was followed by a series of retaliatory measures and threats by China in response to Lithuania’s decision in July to allow Taiwan to open a representative office in Vilnius under its own name.

In August, Beijing call back its ambassador to Vilnius. It also asks Lithuania to “immediately correct its wrong decision, take concrete measures to remedy the damage and not go further down the wrong path”.

After Taiwan’s representative office in Vilnius was opened last month, Beijing impose economic sanctions on Lithuania. This month, they blocked all Lithuanian exports to China by removing the country from the customs authority’s country list, making it impossible for companies to declare customs.

Lithuania was reinstated to the country list after a few days, but EU and country officials said its exports to China were still blocked because any attempt to process the shipment was faulty and the Customs officials refused to assist in solving the problem.

Furthermore, Chinese companies have canceled orders for Lithuanian products and from Lithuanian suppliers, the EU mission in Beijing said.

The European Commission said it was seeking an explanation from Beijing and that the actions could break World Trade Organization rules. EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis meet Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis this week.

Lithuania is expected to raise the issue at a summit of EU leaders on Thursday, but the discussion is likely to be brief, EU diplomats said.

The collapse with Lithuania comes to the EU review its relationship with China, partly due to the bloc’s efforts to respond to Washington’s policy towards Beijing.

An investment agreement has been planned between the bloc and Beijing derailed this year after China blacklisted EU lawmakers and officials in response to sanctions imposed by the bloc for human rights abuses.

Last week, Brussels proposed a “anti-coercive tool“Will allow it to retaliate against economic sanctions. Other Central and Eastern European countries, each attracted by Beijing through a special 17+1 group, cooled down in China, while public opinion in many EU member states has turned against this country.

A bus carrying several Lithuanian diplomats left Beijing for the airport on Wednesday morning, a person familiar with the situation said. Diplomats said on Wednesday morning that they were on a plane to Paris.

Lithuania’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it was in discussions with Beijing about “technical aspects” of its embassy in China and China’s in Vilnius. “Lithuania is ready to continue dialogue with China and restore embassy functions to their full extent once a mutually beneficial agreement has been reached,” the ministry added.

Phone calls to the Lithuanian embassy in Beijing on Wednesday went unanswered.

The EU mission in Beijing said it could not comment. China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Asked about the issue, a senior US official said Washington would continue to “respect and support Lithuania’s sovereign decision to define the contours of the One China policy, free from coercion.” forced from the outside”.

“Lithuania is an important Nato ally and partner for the United States and we reaffirm our support for Lithuania,” the official added. “We will continue to expand and deepen our already strong bilateral relationship with Lithuania.”

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