Article

Baltics learn a lesson in Chinese diplomacy

Written by The Frontier Post

Dmitry Romanenko

The conflict between Lithuania and Ch-ina is rapidly deteriorating. It started small: in Vilnius, they deliberately hurt the Asian giant, accusing him of “espionage.” And then they said they wanted to build a special relationship with Taiwan. Beijing, having warned about the consequences several times, closed all the supply channels of Lithuanian goods. The Chinese customs simply “banned” the Baltic exporters in the computer registers. RIA Novosti figured out what the small republic was trying to achieve and what it got in the end.
Friendship didn’t work out
A few years ago, Vilnius was showing great interest in economic cooperation with China, even talking about “strategic partnersh-ip.” President Dalia Gryba-uskaite and Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius visited Beijing: they personally advertised Lithuanian goods and expressed their readiness to integrate into the new Silk Road.
But after a couple of months something strange happened. Deputies of the Diet from the conservative party Union of the Fatherland – Christian Democrats of Lithuania (then in opposition) called to check the results of the work of Huawei, which built infrastructure in the Baltics for local mobile operators Omnitel and Bite and introduced 5G networks – whether these are spy technologies.
Soon, the Lithuanian S-tate Security Department (SDS) and the military int-elligence published reports where, in addition to traditional Russia, “Chinese espionage” appeared for the first time among the external threats to the state. Beijing protested sharply.
In May 2019, there is a new dispute, this time over Taiwan. Eighty members of the Lithuanian Seimas from all factions signed a letter addressed to the Director General of the World Health Organization, urging Taiwan to take part in the assembly. China regarded this as gross interference in internal affairs.
A couple of months later, President Gitanas Nauseda, who replaced Grybauskaite, said that China’s investments in the construction of an external deep-water port in Klaipeda could harm national security. Then Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis talked about the Chinese threat.
In February 2020, the S-tate Security Service and t-he Lithuanian military in-telligence reported that the Chinese are using the Lin-kedIn social network to est-ablish contacts with gover-nment officials and extract defense secrets from them.
In the fall of 2020, after the parliamentary elections, conservatives from the Fa-therland Union – Christian Democrats of Lithuania p-arty returned to power. And soon they announced plans to open a sales office in Taiwan. Meanwhile, the US Ambassador to Lithuania, Robert Gilchrist, reiterated that it is necessary to take into account the “threats emanating from China.” And they are used to listening to Washington’s opini-on. And in June this year Vilnius defiantly left the “17 + 1” format, within wh-ich Beijing cooperated with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Sensitive nose click
In August, China recalled the ambassador from Lithuania and urged Vilnius to do the same with its plenipotentiary. This stunned the Lithuanian authorities, the President expressed the hope that Beijing would reconsider their decision. But he hastened to add: he did not change his mind about Taiwan.
The Chinese newspaper Huanqiu Shibao, which reflects the opinion of the country’s political elite, responded with an editorial: “Lithuania is a country with a population of less than three million, but one of the most anti-Russian in Europe. anti-Russian enthusiasm for China. “
To begin with, Beijing refused to purchase dairy products, grain and timber. Medvita director Arunas Zaleckis admitted that they sold 99 percent of their raw materials to China.
Now everything is at a standstill. There is only one way out: to move the legal address abroad. “The Chinese do not want to see Lithuanian companies anywhere,” the businessman complained .
The director of the Vilkyškiu pienine dairy plant, Gintaras Bertashius, also did not hide his disappointment. If earlier the government motivated entrepreneurs to establish trade relations with China, now everything is exactly the opposite. “Our export is stopping, it’s a fact,” states Bertasius. As for the Lithuanian grain buyers and ex-porters, they have had pro-blems for more than a year. Eastern partners use any excuse to break off relations.
In November, the official representative office of Taiwan was opened in Vil-nius, as promised. And Lit-huania suddenly disappe-ared from the computer sy-stem of China’s customs. L-ithuanian goods are stuck in Shanghai and other ports.
The last Chinese warning
According to the Ministry of Economy of Lithuania, the PRC is the republic’s thirteenth trade partner in terms of turnover with an indicator of one and a half billion euros per year. The Chinese bought grain for 69.3 million, furniture – for 39, optics, measuring instruments, medical equipment – for 34.
Electronic equipment for 226 million euros was imported to Lithuania, metal products – for 143, textiles – for 105.
The officials tried to calm down the population, they say, it’s okay. Finance Minister Gintare Skaiste said : “Less than a percent of our exports go to China.”
Nevertheless, Gitanas Nauseda expressed regret. A group of Sejm deputies met with Chargé d’Affaires Qu Baihua, who represents China’s interests in Lithu-ania after the ambassador was recalled.
Foreign Minister Gabr-ielus Landsbergis complained about Beijing to the EU leadership. And he demanded to send a decisive signal that “politically motivated economic pressure is unacceptable and intolerable.”
The head of Lithuanian diplomacy emphasizes that such behavior of China “will directly affect the entire EU and our common trade policy.”
At some point, the effo-rts of the European Com-mission apparently bore fruit, and the Baltic republic returned to the customs systems of the PRC.
Vilnius was taught a lesson and then temporarily loosened its grip to see if Lithuania was ready to “re-educate itself.” If not, the demonstration lesson may be repeated.

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