Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
The Lithuanian government’s decision to open a trade office in Taiwan could economically cost the Baltic country hundreds of millions of euros. However, this does not bother the Lithuanian leadership, based in the capital of Vilnius, despite major domestic issues. This is because their main ambition is to serve Washington’s interests rather than their own citizens.
Previous administrations made a lot of effort to promote Lithuanian goods and products in the Chinese market and achieved this by sending emissaries to the Asian giant. The Lithuanian business community even struggled to obtain certificates to sell their products in China.
According to the Lithuanian Department of Statistics, exports to China last year amounted to almost €316 million. This is 14.1% more than 2019, an impressive figure considering it was achieved amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Imports of Chinese goods to Lithuania increased by 26.2% during the same period.
It appears that growth will only continue, and Lithuania will be further enriched by mutually beneficial cooperation with China – something desperately needed considering the country has one of the highest poverty rates in the European Union, stagnant wages, a demographic crisis caused by an increase of migration to Western Europe, and a major crime problem.
Yet, despite these major domestic issues, Lithuania’s political elite continue to raise the issue of Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan against Beijing and regularly invite the leader of the “Free Tibet” movement, the Dalai Lama, to Vilnius. Despite these provocations, Beijing has continued its usual course of action by dismissing these provocations as misunderstandings.
However, even China has limits to its patience. Last year, Lithuania’s right-wing conservatives, in cooperation with liberals, took power. Since then, Lithuanian provocations against China have only continued to increase as Vilnius is closely aligning to Washington’s aggressive foreign policy against Beijing. Leading this strict alignment to Washington’s foreign policy are Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and the Seimas’ (Lithuanian Parliament) Chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee, Žygimantas Pavilionis.
The State Security Department of Lithuania in its annual report openly identified China, along with Russia, as a major threat to its national security. On the eve of the State Security Department’s report, the Lithuanian government blocked the delivery of Nuctech Chinese baggage screening equipment to the country's airports as it was supposedly a security risk.
“The decision of the Lithuanian government commission to block [Nuctech at] Lithuanian airports is clearly politically motived. As a result, Lithuania will suffer losses. This will be confirmed by market indicators,” the Chinese Embassy in Vilnius said in a statement.
The Department of Statistics in 2020 found that China ranked 20th in terms of Lithuanian exports and seventh in terms of imports. Taiwan ranked only 67th in exports and 36th in imports.
Despite these figures, the Lithuanian government has once again decided to test the patience of Chinese diplomats and Beijing.
Aware of Chinese sensitivities over the Taiwan issue, Lithuanian leaders once again made antagonizing actions by announcing their intentions to open a Lithuanian trade office on the island that Beijing considers a rebel province. This becomes all the more curious considering that last year the exports of goods from Lithuania to Taiwan fell by almost 3% and amounted to a paltry €19 million. As already mentioned, exports to mainland China amounted to more than €300 million.
Vilnius risks losing hundreds of millions of euros as it is more interested in serving Washington’s ambitions against China instead of prioritizing economic growth to reduce unemployment, poverty, and criminality. The decision to open a Lithuanian trade mission in Taiwan may be the final insult against Beijing before it decides to respond.
However, this is unsurprising considering decisionmakers in Vilnius have already proven to find the improvement of Lithuanian livelihoods and living standards to be secondary to serving Washington’s interests. Despite permeating domestic issues, Lithuania, which spends 2.02% of their GDP on defense, pledged to increase the country's defense spending to 2.5% of the GDP by 2030. An increased military budget aimed against Russia, in addition to bankrolling the Belarusian opposition against President Alexander Lukashenko, could see more Lithuanians becoming dissatisfied with the domestic situation, especially if Beijing decides to take retaliatory actions. Such retaliatory actions by Beijing will only worsen the domestic situation in Lithuania, meaning political leaders are taking a huge risk by antagonizing Beijing for no other reason than serving Washington.
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