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Between Giant China and Goliath Lithuania, Taiwan says its word


Recently, the Chinese customs authority decided not to let enter a shipment of Lithuanian bottles of Rum, lightning a diplomatic case monitored not only by the other EU but also by Taiwan

The European Union has witnessed a bitter diplomatic quarrel between China and Lithuania. Recently, the Chinese customs authority decided not to let enter a shipment of Lithuanian bottles of Rum, lightning a diplomatic case monitored not only by the other European member states but also by Taiwan. By purchasing that charge of Rum, Taiwan highlighted a relevant message which stated that maybe these bottles could not enter the Chinese territory, but they certainly can access the Taiwanese one.

The rising political friction between China and Lithuania is not new. It quickly affected the political and economic field, starting with a quarrel about human rights between Lithuanian and Chinese citizens in Vilnius three years ago. Since that diplomatic incident, the relationship has dramatically worsened, reaching such a high tension that its rupture would have serious consequences also at the European level.

However, the involvement of a third character, Taiwan (Republic of China, ROC), does not help the whole situation, creating a real international dispute.

The European Union seems uncomfortable: it looks like one of its neighbours is fighting with someone with whom the EU does not want to argue.

The case of the bottles of Rum

Last year, Lithuania inaugurated its first Taiwan embassy in Europe, marking de facto an absolute precedent. It is something that China has bad digested: in fact, Beijing has already taken several mercantilist-type measures against Lithuania, such as the interruption of the issuance of visas towards China and the blockage of all imports from the Baltic nation.

Among the silent European members, Lithuania raised its head and brought forward its personal battle against China, which, it seems, no one else wants to join. Moreover, this was pretty clear, since last May, Lithuania officially exited Beijing’s ‘17+1’ group, walking physically away from the political room where China dialogues with the Eastern European countries.

The rupture of the China-Lithuania relation always got more evident. It reached its most critical point when China decided to reject a cargo of Lithuanian bottles of rum last month. Only the intervention of Taiwan could solve that entwined situation by purchasing the whole shipment and putting a band-aid over the current China-Lithuania trade war.

As a clear sign of a tighter diplomatic relationship between Lithuania and Taiwan, this action walks along with the several political choices undertaken by the Lithuanian government. The establishment of the Lithuania-Taiwan Forum, the Lithuanian donation of Covid-19 vaccine doses to Taiwan and the invitation of Taipei as WHO’s observer (absolutely declined by the Chinese counterpart) is part of a package of convergent measures that aim to set Taiwan not only as a loyal comrade against China’s economic coercion but also as a possible second destination for the Lithuanian containers towards East Asia.

Last week Deputy Foreign Minister Harry Ho-Jen Tseng remarked that Taiwan would continue deepening friendship and expanding exchanges with Lithuania, which somehow officialize the shared objective of further cooperation between these two countries.

This has already drawn some lines on the horizon, such as the announcement of a $200 million investment in Lithuania for the production of semiconductors, which is well welcomed by the European Union, since that product will become the most requested electronic item in the following years. However, the EU must be aware of its moves because elevating Taiwan as an independent commercial partner could mean fighting with its first commercial partner, China, even if currently the European industry has a strong surge in demand for more EU-made semiconductors.

Make a noise if you can hear it

After a deafening silence coming from the European Union member states, something lately moved. At first, the European member states monitored the whole situation and did not intervene not to damage their bilateral partnership with China.

France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have more to lose than win by defending the Lithuanian position against China's economic bullying. However, the United States recently openly supported the Baltic state, unleashing the wrath of China, which denounced this act as an attempt to "contain China".

It has been considered insufficient: Lithuania's foreign minister asks for a more European cohesive and concerted action towards China. So far, the European countries have opted for a “wait and see” formula that only creates friction among the member states and projects insecurities and divisions on an international sphere.

The EU should stand up and express itself with a unified voice, supporting Taipei’s decision to help Lithuania in this trade stand-off and finding a credible solution with its Atlantic ally.

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