Lithuania asks European leaders for help against China after diplomats withdraw

Lithuanian flags flutter during the 15th anniversary of Lithuania's membership of NATO in Vilnius
The flag of Lithuania flutters during the celebration of the 15th anniversary of Lithuania’s membership of NATO in Vilnius, Lithuania March 30, 2019. REUTERS / Ints Kalnins / Files

December 16, 2021

By Andrius Sytas and Gabriel Crossley

VILNIUS/BEIJING (Reuters) – Lithuania will ask European leaders for help in the face of Chinese pressure after the Vilnius delegation and its dependents left China on a hasty trip and amid Beijing refused, there were concerns about the safety of the Lithuanian diplomats.

China downgraded diplomatic relations with Lithuania last month after Taiwan opened a representative office in Vilnius under its own name.

Lithuania’s diplomatic mission to China left the country on Wednesday in a hastily arranged exit, and a diplomatic source familiar with the situation called their departure a response to “threat”.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday said concerns about the safety of Lithuanian diplomats in China were unfounded.

An adviser to the President of Lithuania later told Lithuanian public television that the leader of the Baltic state would ask his European counterparts for help.

“The President will talk to EU leaders about the pressure we face, which we think will lead to a discussion on how the EU and in particular the European Commission can help Lithuania. in this regard,” said Asta Skaisgiryte.

“We want the conflict to be clear with our European partners and the economic actions to be as wide-ranging as possible,” she added.

Claims that Lithuanian diplomats fear for their personal safety or that China bans its citizens from working in its offices are “completely fictitious”, a foreign ministry spokesman said. Wang Wenbin said at a briefing in Beijing earlier.

Lithuanian authorities on Wednesday said they had summoned the top diplomat back from China for consultations and that the embassy would operate remotely for the time being.

Like most countries, Lithuania has official relations with China, not self-ruled and democratic Taiwan, which Beijing considers its territory.

On Wednesday, a group of 19 people including embassy staff and dependents left Beijing en route to Paris, a diplomatic source told Reuters. Another diplomat called their departure a response to “intimidation”.

Speaking to reporters in Vilnius on Thursday, Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said that Chinese authorities had informed diplomats that their ID cards would soon be no longer valid.

“We had an extremely short time… We asked for a longer period, simply because it would be complicated to arrange a return there so quickly. We did not receive any reply to the request, and everyone returned as quickly as possible.”

Unilateral changes to a country’s representative status would violate international treaties, he added.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Landsbergis statements on Thursday.

China has asked Lithuania to change the status of the Beijing embassy to a lower office. This reflects the change China has made to its own corps in Vilnius in response to the opening of an office in Taipei by Lithuania.

“The Lithuanian side also never raised the issue of personal safety with China,” Wang said.

“If the Lithuanian side does not face reality, does not reflect and correct its mistakes, but shirks its responsibility, then that will make bilateral relations even more difficult.”

A senior government official and an industry body told Reuters that China has asked multinational companies to cut ties with Lithuania or face closure of the Chinese market, dragging their companies out of the country. enter the dispute.

(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Andrius Sytas; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Michael Perry and Angus MacSwan) Lithuania asks European leaders for help against China after diplomats withdraw


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