Relationship Worsens, Lithuania Recalls Diplomats From China

Lithuania said on Dec. 15 that it pulled the remaining diplomats from Beijing to protect them, and would operate the embassy in China remotely.

This is the latest development in Lithuania–China tensions after Vilnius approved Taiwan to open a representative office under the name of Taiwan. In the past months, the regime recalled its ambassador in August, downgraded its diplomatic relations with the small Baltic nation in November, and blocked Lithuanian exports and imports.

The Chinese regime claims the island as its own, despite the fact that Taiwan is a de facto independent country, with its own military, democratically-elected government, and constitution. To avoid a possible contradiction, Taiwan’s representative offices are normally under the name of Taipei, rather than Taiwan, in other countries, such as the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States.

Latest Recall

“Lithuania’s charge d’affaires ad interim in China, Audra Ciapiene, returns to Vilnius for consultations,” Lithuania’s foreign ministry stated on Wednesday. Ciapiene is Lithuania’s most senior diplomat in China after ambassador Diana Mickeviciene was recalled back in September because China pulled its ambassador in August and asked Vilnius to recall Mickeviciene.

“In the absence of a substitute diplomat in Beijing, Lithuanian Embassy to China will continue its operations remotely,” wrote the statement. “Lithuania is ready to continue the dialogue with China and restore the functions of the embassy to their full extent once a mutually beneficial agreement has been reached.”

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The name plaque at the Taiwanese Representative Office in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Nov. 18, 2021. (Petras Malukas/AFP via Getty Images)

The foreign ministry said that the discussion between Beijing and Vilnius has never stopped in the past months, and it’s up to Beijing whether it would renew the accreditation of Lithuanian diplomats.

However, the recall of all remaining diplomats is a surprise.

Behind the Scenes

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis posted on Twitter on Dec. 15 that the Chinese regime unilaterally decided to rename the Lithuanian embassy and asked all embassy staff to hand in their IDs.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss posted on her Twitter two hours later: “Unacceptable pressure by China against Lithuanian diplomats in Beijing.”

A diplomatic source told Reuters that the 19 Lithuanian embassy personnel and dependents leaving Beijing is “a response to ‘intimidation.’”

The Financial Times interviewed three people who are familiar with the situation and reported on Wednesday that Beijing wanted to change the embassy into “the office of the chargé d’affaires,” and lower all Lithuanian diplomats’ diplomatic status, which raised Vilnius’s concern that the officials might lose diplomatic immunity after the status is lowered.

EU’s Support

Lithuania is a member state of the European Union and Eurozone. The deteriorated relations between Beijing and Vilnius put the EU in a dilemma of whether to support its member state or compromise on China’s coercion.

On Dec. 8, the European Commission published a statement to answer Lithuania’s complaint that its exports and imports were blocked by Chinese customs.

“The development of China’s bilateral relations with individual EU Member States has an impact on overall EU–China relations,” the European Commission’s Vice President Josep Borrell and Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis stated. “The EU would also assess the compatibility of China’s action with its obligations under the World Trade Organization.”

On the same day, the European Commission considered an “anti-coercion Instrument,” which will be a trade weapon against Beijing’s economic coercion once implemented.

“When a non-EU state puts pressure on an EU company in order to influence EU Policy, [t]his instrument helps to deter that coercion,” the European Commission posted to Twitter on Wednesday. “The goal is to counter and repel such foreign pressure, to further business and trade, and to secure jobs all over the EU.”

In detail, the instrument proposal lowers the bar to allow the European Commission to impose sanctions on non-member states, allowing the community of nations to act decisively in the face of economic aggression by non-members.

From The Epoch Times