Little Lithuania, China’s Headache

Little Lithuania, China’s Headache

Lithuania is standing up to China and facing the heat. It remains to be seen if the rest of the world will support Vilnius and follow in its footsteps.

tippinsights Editorial Board

A tiny nation is taking on a behemoth. Over the past few months, the media have been carrying stories of Lithuania no longer bowing to China's whims. The tiny European nation has been compared to a canary, a minnow, and others. In all that, what should not be lost, is the wilful determination shown by a country that is guided by principles and puts its citizens above other considerations.

Lithuania may be small in size, but it is built on some lofty ideals.  The government has been standing up for human rights and calling violators to the carpet. For instance, Vilnius has offered shelter to the opposition leaders of Belarus who were forced to flee Alexander Lukashenko's dictatorial regime. The parliament has also passed a resolution on Uighurs,  citing the Chinese Communist regime's ill-treatment of the ethnic people.

The country's Defense Ministry Cyber Security Center released a report on Chinese-made cell phones after finding a hidden registry that "allows for the detection and censorship of certain phrases."

Several seemingly minor actions taken by Vilnius seem to be coming to a head. To recap the main events of 2021:

The Lithuanian government permitted Taiwan to open a representative office in Vilnius. The sticking point is that its office is not known as Taipei, as desired by Beijing. The growing relations and cooperation between the two have been niggling China. The Communist Party government views Lithuania's actions regarding Taiwan as a move "to contain" China.

Further, Vilnius left the 17+1 initiative set up by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The cooperation between China and 17 Central and Eastern European countries was meant to promote business and investment relations. The platform was mainly meant to promote President Xi's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.

But then, Vilnius decided that it had not benefited from the association. Moreover, Lithuania now sees the forum as "divisive." They opine that Europe must act as one and should not remain fractured under various groups. The Lithuanians want the EU or 27+1 format, which is hardly China's favor.

Beijing is in retaliatory mode and has resorted to a weapon it has used frequently in the past couple of years -"economic coercion." Initially, Beijing banned imports from Lithuania. But, considering that only 1% of the country's exports are headed to China, it did not have the desired impact. Consequently, the CCP is tightening the screws. Beijing's import ban on products with any component made in Lithuania has wider ramifications. Allowing Beijing to get away with dictating such terms to foreign multinationals would set an undesirable example. Such a ban would impact many EU businesses and various sectors, putting significant pressure on Vilnius to backpedal.

China’s actions are indeed damaging and worrying for the global economy struggling to recover from pandemic-induced lockdowns and choked supply chains. Though Beijing has denied that such blockades exist, the cargo containers stuck at various Chinese ports tell a different story.

The U.S., Germany, and the EU have all voiced their support for Lithuania. But, mere "vocal" support will turn out to be insufficient. Though this is not a war, the world is watching how the EU treats one of its own. Will the EU back one of its smallest members against an economic giant? Or will trade relations take precedence over principles?

Moreover, the Chinese stranglehold over trade and manufacturing is once again in focus. Beijing's willingness to disrupt world trade merely to further its agenda and hegemonic plans is a warning that must not be ignored.

As one of the largest economies and the largest markets, China does enjoy an advantageous position. Yet, overdependence on such a nation for raw materials and finished products does not bode well for the world economies. Beijing's tiff with Vilnius highlights that self-reliance in core sectors is not just desirable but necessary. While a wonderful concept, globalization can work and benefit everyone only if all nations play by the same rules.

Lithuania's foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, claims that his country pursues a "value-based foreign policy" of "supporting people supporting democratic movements." World leaders and other fair-minded nations must step up so that Lithuania may continue to steer ahead based on values that are beneficial and desirable to all.

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U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and her Russian counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and her Russian counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov

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EU Flags

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Hong Kong has its own police force but China has maintained military barracks there since the city’s 1997 handover from Britain.
Hong Kong has its own police force but China has maintained military barracks there since the city’s 1997 handover from Britain.

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