The Lithuanian spearhead Xulio Ríos is emeritus advisor to the China Policy Observatory.

In Análisis, Política exterior by Xulio Ríos

Will the controversial Vilnius-Beijing-Taipei triangle become a square that includes Brussels? It is known that recently Lithuania has promoted unusual diplomatic actions that have significantly affected the normality of its relations with the People’s Republic of China. It is also known that Taiwan is a sensitive matter that must be handled with special care and within the framework of the recognition of the principle of one China – a keystone that precedes the establishment of normalized diplomatic relations.

That Vilnius has promoted a different approach in its relationship with Taipei, ignoring Beijing’s requirements is not only a problem in its relations with China, Lithuania’s viewpoint also takes it away from the majority position in the European Union.

Lithuania has done this unilaterally, without consulting its allies, but warned of the consequences of its actions, Vilnius has received the solidarity of the EU countries and the community institutions.

We have been able to see how Brussels demands state diplomacy to be conducted within its institutional framework to close ranks on issues such as the war in Ukraine, appealing to consensus and the need to avoid fissures that weaken its action.

The same policy is true for the other major issue (the reddest of China’s red lines) with the EU wishing to avoid discrepancies in tone from its members. It is also the case that Commissioner Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is well aware of the intricacies of political-territorial problems and the importance of behaving with moderation in order to avoid more delicate scenarios.

It is difficult to understand the motivations for Lithuania’s posture. There are those who believe it could be due to the influence some entities associated with the tycoon George Soros, have with the government.

Not all Lithuanian institutions share this line of action, but it is evident that Lithuania’s approach has turned it into a battering ram for the American strategy of hostility with China based on the Taiwan problem, which also seeks to divide the EU and try to drag its members into this strategy.

There are two fundamental missions that Lithuania can perform: on one hand, it can appeal to the «solidarity» of the EU, presenting itself as a victim of the foreseeable response from Beijing.

The other option is to encourage the deauthorization and weakening of institutional frameworks, such as that established with the CECO (Central and Eastern European countries) – The 16+1 Forum. Therefore, Lithuania’s actions in this regard, objectively, do not serve European interests but rather the American strategy of prodding away at China with the Taiwan argument.

There are plenty of reasons to suspect this interpretation: for example, the «solidarity» expressed by 41 MEPs (out of a total of 705) or similar decisions taken in the Danish Parliament. Equally illustrative was the visit of the American senator Rick Scott to the representative of Taiwan in Lithuania, Eric Huang, with this being the first time that an American legislator visited the Office of Representation of Taiwan in the Baltic country.

Economically there is very little to gain in this game. In the first six months of 2022, exports from Taiwan to Lithuania reached 64.42 million US dollars, while in 2021 Taiwan’s imports from Lithuania totaled just around 132 million. The numbers say it all. We will have to wait and see what remains of Taipei’s promises to enable 200 million dollars in investment funds and 1,000 million dollars in credit loans.

Meanwhile Vilnius’ commercial relationship with Beijing has been damaged, with China suspending imports of numerous items, from rum to beef in what Lithuania, Taiwan and the USA describe as an example of «coercion.”

However, it is curious that when the owner of Tesla, Elon Musk, speaks in favor of a peaceful solution to resolve the tensions in the Strait in line with the continental proposals, the first reaction of the government in Taipei is to argue «security» reasons, such as leaks of military information, for suspending any type of purchase from Musk’s company.

The change in the name of Taiwan’s representative office – a first indication of the current Lithuanian drift ´- is not on the agenda of other European governments and they have all denied they are interested in following suit. Lithuania has been left alone and no matter how many official delegations they send to Taiwan (four so far this year), it is difficult to see things moving in the direction wants.

The famous Jeffrey Sachs, who this year won a prize from the Taiwanese Tang Foundation, has urged Taipei and Beijing to commit to dialogue to find a peaceful solution amid the growing tensions between both parties. Sachs believes that dialogue is the best option, since it will allow all those involved to understand the respective positions, interests and security needs of the other parties.

The EU should applaud these constructive recommendations because they would help restore confidence and calm. What Lithuania is doing goes in the opposite direction.