Lithuania says its rocky ties with China are a ‘wake up call’ for Europe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China’s treatment of Lithuania is a “wake up call” for Europe, Lithuania’s deputy foreign minister said on Wednesday, calling for the European Union to be united in dealings with Beijing.
China demanded in August that Lithuania withdraw its ambassador in Beijing after Taiwan announced that its office in Vilnius would be called the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania.
The country of about 3 million people this year also withdrew from a “17+1” dialogue mechanism between China and some Central and Eastern European countries, which the United States sees as a effort by Beijing to divide European diplomacy.
Trade disruptions sparked by the tensions have posed a risk to Lithuanian economic growth.
“I think it is a wake up call in many ways, especially for fellow Europeans to understand that if you want to defend democracy you have to stand up for it,” Lithuanian vice minister of foreign affairs Arnoldas Pranckevičius told a security forum in Washington.
In order for Europe to be credible in the world and as a partner for the United States, it has to “get its act together vis-à-vis China,” Pranckevičius said.
“China is trying to make an example out of us – a negative example, so that other countries don’t necessarily follow that path, and therefore it is a matter of principle how the Western community, the United States, and European Union reacts,” he said.
China, which claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, is regularly angered by any moves that might suggest the island is a separate country.
Only 15 countries have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but many others have de facto embassies, which are often termed trade offices using the name of the city Taipei to avoid a reference to the island itself.
Lithuania’s move to leave the 17+1 mechanism was not anti-China, but pro-Europe, Pranckevičius added.
“We have to speak in a united and coherent way because otherwise we cannot be credible, we cannot defend our interests, and we cannot have an equal relationship with Beijing,” he said.
(Reporting by Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Sam Holmes)