Lithuania to open trade representation office in Taiwan despite China's opposition

The office will be opened in a bid to boost economic diplomacy in Asia. PHOTO: REUTERS

VILNIUS, LITHUANIA (REUTERS) - Lithuania will open a trade representation office this year in Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province.

The office will be opened in a bid to boost economic diplomacy in Asia, the spokesman of the Economic and Innovation Ministry told Reuters on Wednesday (March 3).

Few countries have embassies in Taiwan, but several, including the European Union and some of its members, hold representative and trade offices on the island instead.

Responding to Lithuania's decision, China said on Thursday that it firmly opposes the practice of countries establishing official institutions in Taiwan.

China urged Lithuania to stick to the "one China" principle, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters at a regular news briefing in Beijing.

There is only one China in the world," he told a daily news briefing in Beijing on Thursday.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said it had no information on the matter but that it welcomed any move that strengthened bilateral relations.

In a separate move, Lithuania would also prefer direct or European Union-led economic ties to participating in a China-led "17+1" grouping with Central European countries, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

The area of the 12 European Union members and five Western Balkan states which aspires to join the bloc is key to China's Belt and Road Initiative.

This effort aims to link China by sea and land with south-east and central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, through an infrastructure network on the lines of the old Silk Road.

But the courting by China has fuelled concern in Western European capitals that Beijing is seeking to divide the continent, and prompted complaints about its push for control of joint investment projects.

"It is not an international organisation, it has no membership, so we are not talking about joining it or about leaving it", foreign ministry spokesman Vytaute Smaizyte told Reuters on Wednesday.

"In our opinion, the economic initiative did not bring the expected result to Lithuania, so we plan to concentrate on developing our economic relationship with China bilaterally, and within the framework of EU and China cooperation," she added.

Chinese President Xi Jinping last month at a virtual summit pledged to import goods worth more than US$170 billion (S$226 billion) from the region in the next five years, doubling its purchases of agricultural products.

Lithuania sent only its transport minister and Estonia its foreign minister, rather than government leaders, to the summit, chaired by Mr Xi, out of apparent concern over Chinese policies.

Taiwan thanked the EU member in November as its new ruling coalition committed to support "those fighting for freedom" in Taiwan.

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