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Lithuania’s courtship of Taiwan rubs China the wrong way

Lithuania has angered China by allowing Taiwan to establish a representative office in its capital, Vilnius.

At the same time, Lithuania, a staunchly anti-authoritarian government, has evacuated its embassy In Beijing and recalled its diplomats for “consultations.”

China has spent much time and effort in recent years in attempting to persuade a dwindling number of nations that still have diplomatic ties with Taiwan to switch their recognition to China. Lithuania switched the other way.

According to reporting by the Financial Times, China had downgraded Lithuania’s status in Beijing and striped its officials of diplomatic immunity because of its relationship with Taiwan.

Lithuania was concerned about the safety of its diplomats in Beijing, the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, a commentator for the Global Times, an ultra-nationalistic Chinese daily tabloid run under the auspices of China’s People’s Daily newspaper, accused Lithuania of launching “an anti-China crusade.”

China has also been at odds with Czechoslovakia because of its relationship with Taiwan.  

Zdanek Hrib, the mayor of Prague, the Czech capital, has said that he considers himself a “Taiwan fan.” He first visited Taiwan in March 2019 and met with his Taiwan counterpart Taipei mayor Ko Wenje as well as with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen.

The Czech Republic maintained unofficial relations with Taiwan even after it officially recognized the People’s Republic of China following the Communist takeover of mainland China in 1949.

Taiwan, known officially as the Republic of China (ROC) now has formal diplomatic relations with only 14 countries, most of them small nations in the Pacific, the Caribbean, and Latin America.

‘Lithuania Mania’ sweeps Taiwan

Lithuania’s withdrawal of its diplomats from Beijing was widely welcomed in Taiwan, with some Taiwanese citizens flying off to Lithuania bearing thank-you gifts.

According to Agence France-Presse, the tiny handful of Lithuanians now living in Taiwan are suddenly in vogue among the island’s residents after their small Baltic nation did something that Taipei has long staked its identify on: standing up to China.

In the months since Taiwan opened a de-facto embassy in Vilnius, Richard Sedinkinas says that he has started to receive applause in restaurants once the staff there realize where he is from.

It doesn’t matter that the 41-year-old boxing instructor, as well as some two dozen Lithuanians living in Taiwan had nothing to do with his country’s decision to withdraw its diplomats from Beijing.

“People like to show appreciation. They treasure someone who supports Taiwan in the face of this giant country next door,”Sedinkinas told AFP. China regards self-ruled, democratic Taiwan as part of its territory, and it baulks at any international support for the island’s sovereignty.

 Dan Southerland is RFA’s founding executive editor.