The United States is determined to stand with Lithuania against China after Beijing pulled its envoy from the Baltic nation in retaliation against Vilnius’s decision to develop closer ties with Taiwan, according to U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.
Sherman made the commitment in a phone conversation with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis on Aug. 13. Beijing’s diplomatic outburst came after Lithuania agreed to allow Taiwan to open an office in the Baltic nation under the name of “Taiwan.”
“Sherman reiterated the United States is resolute in our solidarity with our NATO ally and EU partner Lithuania, including standing with them in the face of the People’s Republic of China’s recent coercive behavior in response to Lithuania’s decision to develop mutually beneficial ties with Taiwan,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, according to a statement.
Lithuanian🇱🇹 FM @GLandsbergis: Strong US🇺🇸 support expressed to LT🇱🇹 during my call with US @DeputySecState W. R. Sherman at the wake of migrants’ crisis & PRC pressure. Lithuania🇱🇹 will continue promoting democracy and values based foreign policy jointly with our NATO Ally. pic.twitter.com/Q6aRTdgC3j
— Lithuania MFA (@LithuaniaMFA) August 14, 2021
Beijing sees Taiwan as a part of its territory and does not welcome nations and international organizations from establishing official ties with the self-ruled island that might suggest approval of Taiwan’s de facto independence. Due to Beijing’s pressure, countries without formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan often establish trade offices, which act as de facto embassies.
Currently, Taiwan handles its bilateral affairs with Lithuania through its diplomatic outpost in neighboring Latvia’s capital Riga. The output is called the Taipei Mission in the Republic of Latvia.
Taiwan’s only diplomatic ally in Europe is the Vatican. The self-ruled island does not have formal ties with either Lithuania, Latvia, or the United States.
In addition to recalling its ambassador to Lithuania, Beijing also demanded that Vilnius recall its ambassador to China. In response, the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed regret over China’s decision but said it remained “determined to pursue mutually beneficial ties with Taiwan.”
Since then, China’s state-run media have poured scathing criticism on Lithuania. On Aug. 11, China’s state-run Xinhua published a commentary saying that the Baltic nation was “playing with fire” over its decision on Taiwan.
The article said Lithuanian policymakers “will ultimately pay for their recklessness” and Beijing “will not hesitate to take strong countermeasures.”
China’s hawkish state-run media Global Times, in an editorial published on Wednesday, said, “China should join hands with Russia and Belarus, the two countries that border Lithuania, and punish it” and that the Baltic state “needs to be taught a lesson.”
It also warned other European nations not to “think about using the Taiwan question as leverage against China” since issues regarding the self-ruled island represent “a watershed between peace and war.”
Dovilė Šakalienė, a member of the Lithuanian Parliament, took exception to the Global Times editorial, saying the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was using the article to “openly threaten” her country.
“I believe democracy is more sustainable than dictatorships,” Šakalienė wrote on Twitter, before adding, “I guess [the] concept of independent countries forming a strategic partnership is unknown to dictators.”
Several U.S. lawmakers have also voiced their support for Lithuania.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote on Twitter that, “Throwing a tantrum when two free countries choose to talk to each other shows the paranoia and pettiness of the #CCP regime.”
“I support our European partners’ efforts to further engage with Taiwan,” Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Foreign Subcommittee on Asia, said in a statement.
Bera added: “We must continue to oppose Beijing’s efforts to isolate Taiwan from the international community.”
We thank @DeputySecState for stating #US🇺🇸 support of #Lithuania’s🇱🇹 decision to develop mutually beneficial ties with #Taiwan🇹🇼. We’re buoyed by this backing, & will keep working with fellow forces for good in promoting peace, freedom, democracy, human rights & prosperity. https://t.co/lIQ9nfXqt9
— 外交部 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC (Taiwan) 🇹🇼 (@MOFA_Taiwan) August 14, 2021
On Aug. 14, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement welcoming the phone call between Sherman and Landsbergis. Taiwan also thanked the United States for being a leader for the global democratic camp in the face of coercion from authoritarian regimes.
Taiwan will “continue to defend democracy, the rule of law, and protect human rights,” as well as strengthen its “cooperation with the United States,” the ministry stated.
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers news in China and Taiwan. He holds a Master’s degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.