China demands recall of Lithuanian envoy over Taiwan office
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Beijing (AFP) –
China on Tuesday demanded Lithuania recall its envoy to Beijing after the EU member allowed Taiwan to set up an office under its own name in a move seen as provocative by the Chinese government.
The self-ruled island, which China considers part of its territory, last month said it was setting up a representative office in Vilnius under the name "Taiwan" as opposed to "Taipei", an act Beijing interprets as a diplomatic insult.
An outraged Chinese foreign ministry on Tuesday said it had "demanded the Lithuanian government recall its ambassador to China" and would also withdraw the Chinese envoy to Lithuania.
The decision by Vilnius to allow a Taiwanese Representative Office "severely undermines China's sovereignty and territorial integrity" and "brazenly violates" the ground rules of diplomatic relations between China and Lithuania, the ministry said in a statement.
Beijing claims Taiwan as its own and has vowed to one day retake it -- by force if needed.
China tries to keep Taipei isolated on the world stage and rejects any official use of the word "Taiwan" in case it lends the island a sense of international legitimacy.
The Chinese foreign ministry on Tuesday urged Lithuania to "immediately rectify its wrong decision" and "not to move further down the wrong path".
Lithuania's foreign ministry responded by saying it "regrets this move by China".
"While respecting the principle of one China, (Lithuania) is determined to develop mutually beneficial relations with Taiwan," a ministry statement said.
- Shift by ex-communist countries -
The EU echoed the "regret" at Beijing's move, which marked the first time that China has recalled an envoy from a member of the bloc over a Taiwanese office.
"We do not regard the opening of a representative office in or from Taiwan (as opposed to an embassy or consulate) as a breach of the EU's One China policy," a spokeswoman for the bloc said.
The United States said that the world benefitted from engagement with democratic Taiwan, pointing to its leadership in public health and high-tech manufacturing.
"We do stand in solidarity with our NATO ally Lithuania and we condemn the PRC's recent retaliatory actions," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
"Each country should be able to determine the contours of its own One China policy without outside coercion," he said.
The United States is the key provider of weapons and diplomatic support to Taiwan, although even in Washington the island's office is known as the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office.
In Taipei, the foreign ministry called Lithuania "a like-minded good partner for Taiwan".
"Based on the universal values of democracy, freedom and human rights, the two sides continue to enhance exchanges in all areas," spokeswoman Joanne Ou said.
The opening of the Vilnius office is the latest sign that some Baltic and central European countries are seeking closer relations with Taiwan, even if that angers China.
In May, Lithuania announced it was quitting China's 17+1 cooperation forum with central and eastern European states, calling it "divisive".
It has since pledged to donate 20,000 coronavirus vaccine doses to Taiwan.
And in 2019, Prague cancelled a sister-city agreement with Beijing and signed one with Taipei, while a high-profile visit to Taiwan last year by Czech senate leader Milos Vystrcil infuriated China.
Lithuania has also championed democracy in Belarus, providing sanctuary to opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who says she won last year's election.
China cut official contact with Taiwan and ramped up diplomatic pressure after the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen.
Tsai, who won re-election by a landslide last year, rejects Beijing's stance that the island is part of "one China" and instead views Taiwan as a de facto sovereign state.
Beijing has in recent years persuaded some of Taiwan's few diplomatic allies to switch sides through a mixture of pressure, threats and economic incentives.
© 2021 AFP