The heads of parliamentary foreign affairs committees in the US and 11 European countries issued a joint statement on Friday condemning China’s efforts to punish Lithuania for trying to deepen its ties with Taiwan.
The lawmakers, including US Senator Bob Menendez, British Member of Parliament Tom Tugendhat, and their counterparts from France, Germany and other countries, said they “strongly condemn” Beijing’s political, diplomatic and economic pressure on the Baltic state.
“The interference in the internal affairs of a European Union and NATO state [is] neither welcome nor appropriate,” the statement said.
Lithuania’s decision to withdraw from China’s “17+1 forum” of central and eastern European nations, as well as its intention to deepen its ties with Taiwan, are “similar to the sovereign decisions taken by other states,” it said.
The lawmakers’ statement comes as China has sought to impose a political cost on Lithuania for its decision to establish mutual representative offices with Taiwan, following months of warming ties between the countries.
Beijing has specifically objected to the planned use of the word “Taiwan” rather than “Taipei” in the name of the representative office, which it sees as having sovereignty implications.
In addition to recalling its ambassador from Vilnius and expelling Lithuania’s envoy from Beijing, China has introduced retaliatory sanctions, including the halting of direct freight train services to the Baltic state.
In the lawmakers’ statement, they made clear that they support Lithuania’s aspirations to cooperate with China, both bilaterally and alongside its European and transatlantic allies.
However, they added: “We also welcome the developing economic relations with Taiwan and urge Lithuania to maintain [its] current course” in rejecting China’s “aggressive” behavior.
“We call on our governments, the European Union, and other allies, to extend full support to Lithuania as it sets out policies in the interest of its people and [the] wider international community,” the statement said.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement thanking the lawmakers, while also pledging to continue to work alongside other like-minded, democratic nations to support Lithuania.
Lithuanian Member of Parliament Matas Maldeikis, chariman of the Parliamentary Group for Relations with Taiwan, said this week in an interview with the podcast Visegrad Insight that he saw Lithuania’s situation as a test case on how democracies are likely to respond to Chinese pressure.
Maldeikis said that Beijing’s reaction stemmed from a fear that Lithuania would open a “Pandora’s box,” in which many countries would begin establishing closer relations with Taiwan, and treating issues related to Taiwan with more legitimacy.
He said that other countries, including Japan, Sweden, Canada and Australia, have also faced political and economic pressure from China, although not always related to the Taiwan issue, adding that this “is not the way to build mutual trust and a sustainable relationship.”
Even so, making concessions at this point would only lead to Beijing adopting a more “assertive” attitude and making greater demands, Maldeikis said.
In response to this type of threat, democracies should work to develop more resilient supply chains and forms of cooperation to protect common interests, he said.
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