Lithuania pushes back against Beijing's coercion

Lithuania Taiwan China

Lithuania has been garnering backing in a confrontation that began over trade and escalated this week when the small Baltic nation became the first European Union member to allow Taiwan to use its name on a de facto embassy.

Marise Payne, the Australian foreign minister, and Gabrielius Landsbergis, the Lithuanian foreign minister, met and agreed to step up collaboration on issues arising from China's pressure on both nations.

Landsbergis visited Canberra to inaugurate Vilnius' first embassy in the country.

According to Payne, like-minded countries must collaborate to sustain an international rules-based system.

"We're delivering the clearest statement possible about our opposition to coercion and dictatorship," she stated.

The meeting took place following Britain's announcement that it will join an EU complaint against China over Beijing's trade restrictions on Lithuania.

Late last month, the EU filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization, accusing China of restrictive trade practices against Lithuania.

"We support our allies, Lithuania & the EU, in standing against China’s use of coercive trading practices," Britain's foreign trade secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, wrote on Twitter.

"That’s why we will request to join the EU’s @WTO consultation into these measures as a third party to ensure we combat economic coercion in trade together," she added.

According to The Baltic Times, the disagreement began in early 2021, when Lithuania's discussions with China regarding export licenses for feed, non-animal goods, and edible offal (heart, liver and edible organs of small animals) began to unravel.

Beijing had ceased issuing new licenses for Lithuanian food exports to China by August, and direct freight rail service to Lithuania had been suspended.

Taiwan was authorised to create a representative office in Lithuania's capital on November 18 using the name "Taiwan" rather than "Taipei," the word chosen by Beijing, which considers Taiwan to be part a "rebel province."

Since then, China has withdrawn its ambassador from Vilnius while ordering Lithuania's ambassador to leave Beijing.

It has imposed an embargo on Lithuania, banning all of the country's exports and any EU items using Lithuanian-made components.

According to Mantas Adomenas, Lithuania's vice minister for international affairs:

"[China was] sending warnings to multinationals that if they utilise components and supplies from Lithuania, they will no longer be able to sell to the Chinese market or acquire supplies there."

China's action has been dubbed a "wake-up call" by Jonathan Hackenbroich, the head of the European Council on Foreign Relations Task Force for Strengthening Europe Against Economic Coercion.

"Consider this scenario: China quarrels with Lithuania, so it tells German, French, and Swedish firms to cease doing business with Lithuania.

"Then, if China disagreed with Taiwan or another nation, it could easily advise German, French, or Swedish businesses to cease doing business with that country.

Beijing has done it before.'

"It is impossible to rule out the potential that it will occur in the future."

In December, the European Commission proposed legislation to establish an EU anti-coercion tool with the purpose of better protecting EU members against economic coercion.

READ MORE: BEIJING OLYMPICS: China props up Turkish party leader who denies Armenian genocide and calls for war with Greece.

It's the first legislative framework that allows EU members to take action against non-EU countries' economic pressure.

"In reaction to terrible acts of economic coercion, the EU countries will have the whole strength of the EU market," Hackenbroich added.

In a daily news conference on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that in interactions with Lithuania, China follows WTO standards.

He explained, "The ins and outs of the tense China-Lithuania ties are extremely evident."

"China has acted appropriately in defence of its legitimate rights and interests, as well as international justice, legitimately and lawfully.

"China's so-called 'coercion' against Lithuania is all made up.

"Let alone attempting to drag other nations into gang up on China," he continued, adding that Lithuania "should cease conflating right with wrong and cynically puffing things up."

France, which has been the chair of the Council of the European Union from January to June this year, has vowed to speed up the adoption of the anti-coercion instrument, according to Matas Maldeikis, a member of the Lithuanian Parliament.

"Unfortunately, because we must negotiate amongst 27 very diverse countries, reaching a consensus takes time," he said, adding: "The good news is that many people see the need for such an instrument and the importance of EU unity."

In January, Andrius Kubilius, a member of the European Parliament and former Prime Minister of Lithuania, said that he did not anticipate the EU's larger members to take action against China.

"Perhaps it will extend from Lithuania to others, and in time, Europe will stand together against a country that does not satisfy our values," he continued.

"China needs to learn lessons," he said, "because they've been permitted to operate in a way that doesn't comply with our principles and laws because they've been so affluent."

Petros Aramidis is a geopolitical analyst based in Athens.


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