16 August 2022 — New Eastern Outlook
Author: Valery Kulikov
On August 7, a delegation of 11 Lithuanian officials led by Deputy Minister of Transport and Communications Agnė Vaiciukevičiūtė arrived in Taiwan on a five-day visit. According to the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry, the purpose of the delegation’s visit is to “strengthen strategic cooperation and business ties in advanced sectors.” In reality, however, the Lithuanian vice-ministers talked about the possibility of signing documents that hinted at Taiwan’s independence, thus sending a signal to the separatist forces on the island that was not friendly to Beijing.
Stubbornly pursuing the anti-Beijing course imposed by Washington politicians on the limitrophe country, the Lithuanian Foreign Minister earlier commented on the recent visit of the US House of Representatives speaker to Taiwan, saying that with this move Pelosi supposedly “opened the door” to the island “even wider.” Voicing instructions from Washington on the matter, he expressed confidence that very soon “other defenders of freedom and democracy” would arrive there.
At the same time, a few days before the visit of Lithuanian officials to Taiwan, Lithuanian Seimas speaker Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, answering questions from foreign correspondents, said she intended to discuss with leading EU politicians the possibility of a “joint visit to Taiwan” in the near future.
In 2022, Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs and Innovation Jovita Neliupšienė and Deputy Minister of Agriculture Egidijus Giedraitis also visited Taiwan, indicating that Vilnius is deliberately implementing the relevant anti-Chinese directives from Washington.
Chinese authorities have criticized the visit of Lithuanian government members to Taiwan, believing that Lithuanian officials support the island’s separatists. “We express our strong displeasure over this visit as it is a gross interference in our internal affairs. This is a challenge to the One China principle, a vicious provocation and an attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country. The PRC will retaliate decisively,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin told at a briefing.
According to Chinese media, Lithuania, with which China tried to build friendly and mutually beneficial relations after 1991, has since last year become the vanguard of anti-Chinese policies in Europe. However, it should be recalled that before 2019 Lithuania also tried to maintain positive relations with China: back in 2018, while in Beijing, then Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė called cooperation with the PRC “important” and very beneficial. According to UN Comtrade, Lithuania’s exports to China in 2020 amounted to $357.7 million, while imports from the PRC were $1.8 billion, making China the seventh largest import trading partner for Vilnius. Critically reacting to the development of relations between Vilnius and Beijing, Washington immediately made it clear to its Baltic satellite that it would decide with whom Lithuania would be friends and with whom not. In this way, the USA had already chosen Lithuania as a weak link of the European Union, through which any anti-Chinese and anti-Russian initiatives could be thrown in, making Vilnius, which does not have any independence, an instrument of its policy.
Thus the situation between Lithuania and China began to change as the US-China trade wars escalated and Lithuania’s “cooperation” with the US intensified. Already in 2019, the Lithuanian State Security Department first called China a threat, and then Lithuanian President G. Nausėda said he sees Chinese investment in Lithuanian ports as a menace as well. This was followed, with blatant initiation by Washington, by a scandal involving Huawei Corporation, which intended to deploy a fifth-generation mobile phone network in Lithuania and which Vilnius indiscriminately accused of spying activities. In February 2021, the Lithuanian Seimas, showing its servile allegiance to Washington, began drafting a resolution on the situation of Uighurs in the “authoritarian communist” PRC, and the MP Dovilė Šakalienė even promised to seek an international investigation into “Beijing’s crimes” in this regard. In March last year, Vilnius announced plans to open a trade and economic representative office in Taiwan, and in May Lithuania left the 17+1 Forum for Cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries and called on other participants to follow suit.
With the opening of the first “Taiwan representative office” in the EU in Lithuania on November 18, Lithuanian-Chinese relations took a turn for the worse, with China recalling its Ambassador from Vilnius and suggesting that Lithuania do the same. Beijing then decided to downgrade diplomatic relations with the Baltic republic to Chargé d’affaires.
And in December of the same year, the Chinese government banned imports of goods from Lithuania, after which Lithuanian exporters were excluded from the Celestial Empire’s customs system, which stopped allowing Lithuanian goods and goods with Lithuanian components into the country, and also stopped accepting import applications from Lithuania. These sanctions tactics by Beijing have led to a 40% drop in cargo turnover in the port of Klaipeda alone and to desperate appeals by Vilnius to the US and EU for help against the Chinese sanctions. However, a loophole was found in these sanctions – goods went through the ports of neighboring countries. At some point, the European Commission’s efforts apparently bore fruit, and the Baltic Republic returned to the PRC’s customs systems. However, China did teach Vilnius a lesson by showing where sanctions from the “collective West” can lead. Although the PRC then loosened its grip temporarily, the move nevertheless signaled that it wanted to see whether Lithuania was ready to “re-educate” itself. If not, the demonstration lesson could be repeated.
That said, however, it should be noted that the economic logic behind Vilnius’ decision to ostensibly support Taiwan clearly does not work. Back in the early 1990s, such logic would have been politically shaky, but economically understandable, as there was then a mirage of “inexhaustible Taiwanese investment”. Today, however, the situation is different, especially in the context of the economic crisis in the Baltic Republic itself. And the only explanation for the current moves by Vilnius in this direction can only be the hopes of Lithuania to be compensated by the United States for losses from such openly anti-Chinese moves – in economic and military-political terms. Vilnius is clearly counting on the US to further strengthen the Baltic bridgehead as part of its military containment of Russia, as well as to provide the Lithuanian government with a new generous compensation in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars in direct loan guarantees, while de facto helping not so much Vilnius as its own companies.
However, all indications are that, despite possible American “compensation”, Vilnius will in any case be the main loser in this story. After all, it has managed not only to make an enemy of Beijing, but also to set Europe up and, in relations with Washington, to move from the rank of satellite to the even less honorable category of “provocateurs”. And as history shows, the United States leaves them to the mercy of fate as soon as it sees fit.
Valery Kulikov, political expert, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.