China has officially reduced its diplomatic relations with Lithuania to the level of “business manager”, the Beijing Foreign Ministry announced on Sunday, in protest after Taiwan set up a de facto embassy in Vilnius, AFP reports.
“The Chinese government has been forced to reduce diplomatic relations between the two countries (…) in order to protect its sovereignty and the basic rules of international relations,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The Lithuanian government must bear all the consequences,” he said, adding that Vilnius’ actions “set a negative precedent on the international stage.”
China on Friday threatened that Lithuania would take “all necessary measures” to protect its sovereignty.
Lithuania’s use of the name “Taiwan’s representative office” represented a major diplomatic step that defied a Chinese pressure campaign to isolate the autonomous democratic island on the international stage.
Beijing added that Lithuania had “abandoned its political commitment to establish diplomatic relations” with China, referring to the “one-China policy” that countries officially recognize the Chinese government and not Taiwan.
Lithuania “regrets” China’s decision
Lithuania “regrets” China’s decision, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said. “Lithuania reaffirms its commitment to the ‘One China’ policy, but at the same time has the right to expand its cooperation with Taiwan,” including through the establishment of non-diplomatic missions, a statement said.
Only 15 countries officially recognize Taipei at the expense of Beijing, which claims the autonomous democratic island as part of its territory and has vowed to take it back one day, by force if necessary.
China has tried to keep Taipei isolated on the international stage and rejects any official use of the word “Taiwan”, fearing that this would give the island a sense of international legitimacy.
The July announcement of the opening of the de facto embassy in Vilnius, the first embassy in Europe in 18 years, launched a campaign of Chinese pressure to isolate the autonomous democratic island on the international stage.
Beijing has also stopped freight trains to Lithuania and stopped issuing food export permits.
International support for Taiwan has increased recently
In May, Lithuania announced its withdrawal from the 17 + 1 cooperation forum between China and Eastern European states, calling it a “source of divisions”.
Politicians in the Czech Republic and Slovakia have also lobbied for closer ties with Taiwan.
In 2019, Prague canceled a twinning agreement with Beijing and signed one with Taipei, while a high-level visit by Czech Senate leader Milos Vystrcil to Taiwan last year angered China.
Last month, a delegation of Taiwanese officials visited Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Lithuania, again drawing Beijing’s anger.
International support for Taiwan has grown since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power.
In recent months, an increasing number of informal diplomatic visits have taken place between Taiwanese, European and American officials.
Xi Jinping has taken a much more aggressive approach to Taiwan since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, who sees Taiwan as an already sovereign nation and not part of “one China”.
Beijing has also recruited several Taiwanese diplomatic allies in recent years, including Panama, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.