China demands Lithuania withdraw envoy in row over Taiwan

Lithuania said earlier this year it plans to open its own representative office in Taiwan.
Lithuania said earlier this year it plans to open its own representative office in Taiwan.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China demanded Lithuania on Tuesday (Aug 10) withdraw its ambassador in Beijing and said it would recall China's envoy to Vilnius in a row over the Baltic state allowing Taiwan to open a de facto embassy there using its own name.

China considers Taiwan a renegade province to be reunified, by force, if necessary. Beijing also considers Taiwan to be its most sensitive territorial issue, and is regularly angered by any moves which suggest the island is a separate country.

Taiwan announced the new mission last month, saying it would be called the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania, the first time the island's name has been used for one of its offices in Europe, as normally only "Taipei" is used.

China, which had already denounced the decision, has now gone a step further with concrete action to express its ire.

Lithuania's allowing the office to open under the name of Taiwan was done so "in disregard of China's repeated representations and articulation of potential consequences", and severely undermines China's sovereignty, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.

"The Chinese Government expresses its categorical opposition to this move. China has decided to recall its ambassador to Lithuania and demanded the Lithuanian Government recall its ambassador to China," it added.

"We urge the Lithuanian side to immediately rectify its wrong decision, take concrete measures to undo the damage, and not to move further down the wrong path."

Lithuania said earlier this year it plans to open its own representative office in Taiwan, and has donated 20,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses to the island.

Only 15 countries have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but many others have de facto embassies which are often termed trade offices, as is the case for the European Union, of which Lithuania is a member state.

Lithuania said China’s decision was "disappointing". 

"We are considering our next moves," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told Reuters.  "Obviously we got the message but we stated our own message as well, that Lithuania will continue with its policy because it is not only Lithuania’s policy we are pursuing, it is also the policy of many European countries." 

China has ramped up pressure on countries not to engage with Taiwan.

In February, the South American country of Guyana revoked a deal for Taiwan to open a representative office there only a day after Taipei had announced it.

Taiwan blamed Chinese "bullying" for the decision.