Lithuania yesterday said it “regrets” China’s decision to downgrade diplomatic ties in protest after Taiwan established a de facto embassy in Vilnius.
“Lithuania reaffirms its adherence to the ‘one China’ policy, but at the same time has the right to expand cooperation with Taiwan,” including establishing non-diplomatic missions, the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
China has officially downgraded diplomatic ties with Lithuania in protest, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said earlier in the day.
In Taipei, the Mainland Affairs Council said it was “rude and unreasonable” for China to interfere in other countries’ affairs and obstruct Taiwan’s normal interaction with other nations.
Developments in Taiwan’s bilateral relationship with Lithuania — such as the opening of the office in Vilnius and the Lithuanian government’s plan to open a representative office in Taiwan by the end of this year — are related to the basic rights of the members of the international community, and not part of China’s “internal affairs,” as Beijing claims, the council said.
The establishment of the office is significant, as it shows Taiwan’s shared values and close friendship with Lithuania, the council said, adding that the international community has been supportive of developing ties between the two countries.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement said that Taiwan’s relations with other countries, particularly democratic ones with whom the nation shares close and friendly ties, will not cease simply because China is upset.
China’s latest action toward Lithuania only goes to show its pettiness, if not ludicrousness, it added.
Lithuania allowing Taipei to open an office using the name “Taiwan” was a significant diplomatic departure that defied a pressure campaign by Beijing.
China balks at any official use of the word “Taiwan,” lest it lend a sense of international legitimacy to the nation — which it considers a part of its territory to be taken one day, by force if necessary.
“The Chinese government had to lower diplomatic relations between the two countries ... to safeguard its sovereignty and the basic norms of international relations,” the Chinese ministry said in a statement announcing the downgrade to the charge d’affaires level.
“The Lithuanian government must bear all consequences that arise from this,” it said.
It added that Lithuania had “abandoned the political commitment made upon the establishment of diplomatic relations” with China.
It was a reference to the “one China” policy, under which countries officially recognize Beijing over Taipei.
Taiwan announced in July that it would open the office, its first new diplomatic outpost in Europe in 18 years.
That prompted a fierce rebuke from China. It withdrew its ambassador from Lithuania and demanded Vilnius do the same, which it eventually did.
China also halted freight trains to Lithuania and stopped issuing food export permits.
The opening of the Vilnius office is the latest sign that some Baltic and central European countries are seeking closer relations with Taiwan, even if that angers China.
In May, Lithuania announced that it was quitting China’s 17+1 cooperation forum with central and eastern European states, calling it “divisive.”
Politicians in the Czech Republic have also pushed for closer ties with Taiwan.
Only 15 countries officially recognize Taipei over Beijing.
However, Taiwan maintains embassy-equivalent representative offices with many nations and several countries have similar arrangements in Taipei.
International support for Taiwan has grown since Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) came to power. A growing number of unofficial diplomatic visits have taken place between Taiwanese, European and US officials in the past few months.
Additional reporting by Chen Yu-fu and Lu Yin-hsuan
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