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China Concedes in Dispute with Lithuania over Taiwanese Representative Office, Lifts Sanctions

China recently lifted the severe trade restrictions imposed on Lithuania after the Baltic state established a “Taiwanese Representative Office” in late 2021.

The sanctions were part of Beijing’s vigorous efforts to prevent  other countries around the world from establishing diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Representatives of the Chinese government said that it would only be permissible for the Taiwanese office in Lithuania to be referred to as a “Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office,” and that the terminology “Taiwanese Representative Office” was unacceptable. Under normal diplomatic relations between sovereign states, a similar outpost of one country within another would be called an “Embassy.”

German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung quoted Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis on the new development in China-Lithuania relations: the Chinese government has ended its attempt at “economic coercion,” and the name “Taiwanese Representative Office” will remain despite Beijing’s criticism. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung praised Lithuania, saying that the small country had won the principles-based fights.

Lithuania conducts trade with China worth tens of millions of euros. China’s restrictive measures led to an 80% drop in Lithuania’s 2022 exports to China. The EU raised the issue of Chinese-Lithuanian trade with the World Trade Organization at the end of 2022.

Many EU countries, including Eastern European countries, no longer see China as a favorable partner. Last year, Baltic countries Latvia and Estonia followed Lithuania’s lead in withdrawing from the China and Central and Eastern European Countries (China-CEEC) initiative, also known as the 14+1 initiative (formerly 17+1). These Baltic states have established trade offices with Taiwan. The Czech Republic also got closer to Taiwan, deviating from its historically-close ties with China. China’s support of Russia during the Russia-Ukraine war further alienated many countries in the EU.

Facing serious economic challenges domestically, China now seeks to ease relations with Western countries. This recent move on trade with Lithuania is one such effort, potentially lightening tensions with the European Union (EU) ahead of the upcoming China-EU Summit. In another such effort, Beijing has cancelled travel visa requirements for citizens of five different EU countries, enabling easier travel to China.

Source: Back China, December 3, 2023