China yesterday recalled its ambassador to Lithuania to protest the European nation’s move to let Taiwan set up a de facto embassy, sending a rare warning to others that might seek more formal ties with Taipei.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in a statement that it had recalled Ambassador Shen Zhifei (申知非) from Vilnius and demanded that Lithuania’s envoy leave Beijing.
The ministry blamed the move on the Baltic state’s decision to allow Taipei to open a representative office under the name “Taiwan,” something that “severely undermines China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“If Lithuania dares to take one more step, there will be a cutting-off of official ties,” said Wang Yiwei (王義桅), director of Renmin University’s Institute of International Affairs and a former Chinese diplomat. “This is also a warning to other EU countries not to follow Lithuania’s suit.”
China has for decades required states to renounce ties with Taipei as a condition for establishing relations — under what it calls the “one China” principle — leaving Taiwan with only 15 UN-recognized diplomatic partners.
Countries including the US and Japan have stepped up support for Taiwan amid a campaign by Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) to pressure Taipei to accept Beijing’s “one China” framework for ties.
While China lodges frequent protests over diplomatic issues, it rarely recalls its ambassadors. Beijing withdrew its envoy from the US in 1995 after Washington granted a visa to then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), in one of the two rivals’ most serious dust-ups over Taiwan.
The Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it “respects the principle of one China” and regretted Beijing’s decision.
Still, Lithuania is “determined to develop mutually beneficial relations with Taiwan, just as many other countries in the European Union and the rest of the world,” it said.
In Taipei, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Joanne Ou (歐江安) said in a statement that Taiwan has noted China’s recall of its ambassador in Lithuania.
Lithuania’s steadfast commitment to the principles of freedom and democracy is worthy of admiration, she said, adding that the Baltic state is a like-minded friend and partner with which Taiwan would continuously seek to strengthen exchanges in various fields.
“In opening representative offices in our two countries, Taiwan and Lithuania aim to engage in mutually beneficial cooperation in the areas of the economy, technology, education and culture,” she said.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Wang Ting-yu (王定宇) admonished China for pressuring Taiwan and countries friendly toward it.
“China ignores the existence of Taiwan, and fabricates lies that it spreads throughout the world,” he said. “We thank Lithuania for being upright and brave, and for cherishing the friendship it has with us.”
“China acts like a hoodlum, and it simply cannot see what is good about Taiwan,” DPP Legislator Hsu Chih-chieh (許智傑) said.
“Lithuanian officials should also be invited to Taiwan for talks on direct flights between Taipei and Vilnius,” he said. “We must stand up to Chinese bullying and repay Lithuania’s kindness with real action.”
The EU’s delegation in Beijing did not immediately respond to a request for comment on China’s move.
Earlier this year, Lithuania pulled out of the 17+1 cooperation mechanism, which was set up by China to promote trade and dialogue between China and central and eastern European countries.
Lithuania‘s government, which took power eight months ago, has also angered China by announcing plans to give visas to Hong Kong residents facing persecution.
Lithuania has limited economic exposure in a dispute with China, with US$1.8 billion in total trade last year. China was Lithuania’s 12th-largest trading partner.
Additional reporting by Chien Hui-ju
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