US discusses support for Lithuania amid China pressure

Washington (AFP) –


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday saluted Lithuania's championing of democracy in Belarus and Taiwan and discussed ways to support the tiny Baltic state in the face of China's fury.

Lithuania in July agreed to let Taiwan open a representative office under its own name, prompting a pressure campaign by China which seeks to isolate the self-governing democratic island on the international stage.

The EU nation was already at the forefront of the struggle against the authoritarian government in neighboring Belarus, welcoming exiled leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who says she won last year's elections.

"We stand against economic coercion, including that being exerted by China," Blinken said as he welcomed Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis.

"We stand strongly for democracy, including in Belarus, where we're very much working together," Blinken said.

Landsbergis, speaking afterward to AFP, said that he and Blinken discussed "economic, financial, political measures" that can be taken to withstand Chinese pressure.

"We discussed various possible measures (to respond to China) that would help not only Lithuania, but also other countries in the future that would face similar pressure from authoritarian regimes," he said.

Beijing halted freight trains to Lithuania and stopped issuing food export permits over the decision on Taiwan, which the communist government considers a territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

Landsbergis said he also spoke to Blinken about his worries on deeper political and military integration between Russia and Belarus, which recently carried out joint drills.

"We must be prepared for a policy of non-recognition if the states are united, having in mind that the illegitimate president does not have the authority to sign such treaties," he said.

"The West has to make it clear."

He was referring to the authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, who has launched a sweeping crackdown as protesters rejected results that declared him the winner in the 2020 vote.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected in the Belarusian capital Minsk to sign a raft of integration agreements on November 4.