Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 28 December 2021

 China Bullies Little Lithuania

The Baltic state needs U.S. and EU support as it stands up to Beijing.


The lobby of the Taiwanese Representative Office in Vilnius, Nov. 18. PHOTO: PETRAS MALUKAS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

With fewer than three million people, tiny Lithuania hardly poses a threat to China. But you wouldn’t know it from how Beijing is acting. The Chinese Communist government is throwing a fit because Lithuania allowed the opening of a Taiwanese Representative Office in Vilnius.

Opinion: Potomac Watch

WSJ Opinion Potomac Watch

Lithuania’s foreign ministry says it “reaffirms its adherence to the ‘One China’ policy.” But the same statement also said Lithuania reserves the right to expand its cooperation with Taiwan. In response, China sent Lithuania’s ambassador home, recalled its own ambassador in Vilnius and downgraded the diplomatic status of its embassy.

Reuters reports that China has also told multinationals such as Germany’s car parts maker Continental to stop using components made in Lithuania or face being denied access to the much more lucrative China market. China’s foreign ministry denies the pressure, along with Lithuanian charges that its goods are being blocked. But the Communist Party-controlled Global Times says China is considering “U.S.-style sanctions” along the lines of those used against the Chinese communications giant Huawei.

We’ve seen this play before. When Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison asked for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19, China restricted or put tariffs on Australian exports from beef and barley to wine and lobster. Given that China accounted for a high percentage of Aussie exports, people wondered if Canberra would run up the white flag.

The Aussies didn’t bend, to their great credit. Mr. Morrison hasn’t recanted, and Australia has been able to find other markets for many of its banned products. Australia has also received strong U.S. support for its determination to resist Chinese attempts at economic intimidation.

Lithuania deserves no less. On Tuesday Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte. According to the State Department, Mr. Blinken “underscored ironclad U.S. solidarity with our NATO Ally and EU partner”—and promised to resist Chinese coercion.

In October Mr. Blinken rightly called Taiwan a “democratic success story.” He also called on the United Nations to give Taiwan “meaningful participation” in the body. China will object, but the U.S. should press the point.

The European Union has the bigger responsibility regarding Lithuania. If Australia can stand up to Beijing, surely the EU can. One way to send a signal might be for the EU to call on its members to withdraw from the 17+1, a Chinese diplomatic initiative aimed at Central and East European nations. Lithuania dropped out in May, and it’s time others followed.

China isn’t content merely to stifle dissent internally. It is using its economic power to impose its will around the world. Today Lithuania is the target, and the issue is Taiwan. But tomorrow it could be any country or business—and over anything from Covid-19 to Hong Kong, Tibet, or the Uyghurs. China needs to see that such bullying doesn’t work.

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