Taiwan firm buys Lithuanian rum blocked by China after diplomatic row

A batch of 20,400 bottles of Lithuanian rum is set to arrive in Taiwan later this month. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (AFP) - A Taiwanese liquor company said on Monday (Jan 3) that it has snapped up more than 20,000 bottles of Lithuanian rum that were blocked from China after a diplomatic row broke out between Beijing and Vilnius.

China has downgraded diplomatic ties with Lithuania after Vilnius allowed Taiwan to open a representative office under its own name in November.

China has also stopped issuing visas and blocked exports from Lithuania, prompting protests from the European Union's trade commissioner.

The state-run Taiwan Tobacco & Liquor Corporation (TTL) said it bought a batch of 20,400 bottles of Lithuanian rum that have been "drifting at sea" after China refused customs clearance.

The shipment is set to arrive on the island later this month and the bottles will be repackaged with Chinese labels before hitting the market, it said in a statement.

"Lithuania supports us and we support Lithuania. TTL calls for a toast to that."

Beijing baulks at any international support for Taiwan lest it lends a sense of international legitimacy to the island, which it considers a renegade province to be reunified, by force if necessary.

It has stepped up a campaign to isolate the self-ruled island on the world stage and poached eight of Taiwan's diplomatic allies - most recently Nicaragua - since pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016.

Several companies and business leaders in Lithuania, an EU member state, complained last month that China was blocking their exports by not clearing customs for their products.

Mr Valdis Dombrovskis, European Commission executive vice-president and trade commissioner said Lithuania's claims about the Chinese blockade were verified and the commission was receiving reports from other member countries about blocked goods that contained parts from Lithuania.

There were "many cases in which imports from Lithuania and the EU are being stopped at Chinese ports and the number is increasing daily", Mr Dombrovskis said in late December.

He said the commission was using political and diplomatic channels to try to resolve the dispute.

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