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Lithuania Withdraws from 17+1, Calling on Other Countries to Follow Suit

Amid the deterioration of relations between the 27 EU countries and China, Lithuania believes that China constitutes a “division of the 17+1 mechanism.”  The country’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis announced that Lithuania has decided not to attend the 17+1 summit. Landsbergis called on EU member states to respond to China in unison, and called on other member states to withdraw from this mechanism.

The 17 + 1 mechanism was a cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries. It was an initiative of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to promote business and investment relations between China and the 17 CEE countries.

On Thursday, this Baltic country’s parliament formally adopted a resolution that found Beijing to be committing “genocide” and a “human holocaust” against Uighur Muslims. The Lithuanian parliament also called on the United Nations to organize a mission to Xinjiang to investigate the mass detention of Uighurs and asked the European Union to revise its relations with Beijing.

Lithuania has taken several initiatives in recent months that have infuriated Beijing including vetoing Chinese investments and opening commercial offices in Taiwan. The Chinese Foreign Ministry lodged a protest on March 4, “strongly opposing” the establishment of Lithuanian official institutions in Taiwan.

In February this year, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia took the lead in lowering the level of participation in the summit between China and CEE countries, sending in a minister instead of a president or a prime minister. Six countries followed suit.

China has attached unprecedented importance to the February 17+1 summit. President Xi Jinping personally chaired the conference, which was usually hosted by Premier Li Keqiang. Although the Chinese Foreign Ministry has also been making frequent behind-the-scenes moves to get leaders of member states to attend, this year’s summit saw the lowest level of participation ever since the mechanism was established in 2012.

Analysis suggests that the 17+1, which was seen from the beginning by the EU as a mechanism to try to divide Europe, is now losing its initial aura. The failure of the Chinese to deliver on their investment promises, as well as the disproportionate trade benefit brought to Beijing, has disappointed the host countries. The outbreak of the corona virus epidemic has impaired China’s image even worse. Beijing’s recent counter-sanctions against the EU over the Uighur human rights issue have caused unprecedented damage to bilateral relations. The European Parliament’s recent decision to freeze the “EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement” is another example of the apparent deterioration of bilateral relations.

Source: Radio France International, May 23, 2021