China downgrades diplomatic ties with Lithuania in solemn protest
A rare, timely decision to 'make the Baltic state feel pain’
Published: Nov 21, 2021 11:39 AM Updated: Nov 22, 2021 01:20 AM
File Photo:Xinhua

File Photo:Xinhua

China decided on Sunday to downgrade its diplomatic relations with Lithuania to the level of chargé d'affaires as a solemn protest against the Baltic state's collusion with the secessionist authority on the island of Taiwan and blatant violation of the one-China principle and international rules.

"Given the fact that the political foundation for an ambassadorial-level diplomatic relationship has been damaged by Lithuania, the Chinese government, out of the need to safeguard national sovereignty and basic norms governing international relations, has no choice but to downgrade its diplomatic relations with Lithuania to the chargé d'affaires level. The Lithuanian government must bear all the ensuing consequences," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement it released on Sunday. 

"We urge the Lithuanian side to immediately put right its mistake and not to underestimate the Chinese people's strong resolve, will and capability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity," the ministry said. 

The decision came after the island of Taiwan opened its so-called representative office in Lithuania on Thursday, which has sparked strong opposition and protest from the Chinese government. China recalled its top envoy in Vilnius in August and demanded that Lithuania withdraw its ambassador to Beijing over the island's plans to open the office.

Experts on diplomatic relations said the latest move signals a serious setback in China-Lithuania ties and reflects China's resolute determination to "make the tiny country feel pain." They warned that if Lithuania continues to go its own way, the possibility of completely cutting off diplomatic ties cannot be ruled out. 

The decision, coming ahead of the US-initiated "democracy summit," was also hailed as a timely, appropriate measure as Lithuania is still "ridiculous in being a running dog for US." The downgrade is believed to be a deterrent to some other European countries, warning them not to try to provoke China on key issues. 

Bad precedent 

The Chinese Foreign Ministry stressed in Sunday's statement that there is only one China in the world and the government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China. The one-China principle is an overwhelming consensus of the international community, a widely recognized norm governing international relations, and the political foundation for China and Lithuania to develop bilateral ties. 

The Chinese government has, out of goodwill in preserving China-Lithuania ties, repeatedly warned Lithuania against acting in bad faith. Regrettably, Lithuania has chosen to ignore China's solemn position and to disregard the broader interests of bilateral ties and the basic norms governing international relations. It has allowed the establishment in Lithuania of the "Representative Office" bearing the name of Taiwan, thus creating an egregious precedent in the world, it said.  

"The downgrade means a serious setback in China-Lithuania diplomatic relations, as chargé d'affaires does not have full authority compared with ambassadors. It indicates that the power of diplomats in both countries will be greatly limited and affected," Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

Cui noted that the measure is relatively rare because it is also rare in recent years for countries like Lithuania to openly challenge China over the Taiwan question and disregard China's clear position on the matter. 

A similar decision can be traced back to as early as May 5, 1981, when China downgraded bilateral diplomatic ties to the chargé d' affaires level with the Dutch government after the Netherlands approved the sale of a submarine to the island of Taiwan, which violated the 1972 Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations at Ambassadorial Level between China and the Netherlands. Six days later, the Netherlands accepted the decision and took the same measure. 

On February 1, 1984, China and the Netherlands issued a joint communiqué to resume diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level, on the basis of the Netherlands' refusal to issue licenses for Dutch companies to sell submarines to the island of Taiwan and its commitment not to approve arms sales to the island.

Recalling the ambassador has already given Lithuania a cooling-off period, a period of reflection and correction, but the country failed to grasp the chance. The downgrade has conveyed a clear message that no country should ever take any chances on Taiwan-related matters and pretend to be ignorant, Cui said.

Lithuania's foreign ministry on Sunday said it regretted China's decision to downgrade ties. "Lithuania reaffirms its adherence to the One China policy, but at the same time has the right to expand cooperation with Taiwan," the ministry said in a statement, according to the Guardian.

Wang Yiwei, director of the institute of international affairs at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said "the emphatic downgrade aims to make Lithuania feel pain."

Coming ahead of the US-initiated "democracy summit," it is a very timely and appropriate move as the "tiny state" is still "ridiculous in being a running dog for anti-China forces," as it has tried to show that it is not afraid of "repression" and attempts to raise its voice in the "democratic world." 

Wang believed that the move will be a deterrent for some other European countries, including the Czech Republic and Poland, warning them not to try to provoke China on key issues such as the Taiwan question.

Liu Zuokui, a senior research fellow on European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, pointed out that the rare move suggests there is a high probability that the two sides will have to sever ties.

Liu said that Lithuania's dangerous move of provoking China has jeopardized and will continue to jeopardize its own economic interests, especially in trade and transportation.

The Lithuanian economy relies heavily on agriculture, and the exports of its agricultural products account for nearly one-third of its export trade with China. Over the years, Lithuania's agricultural exports have been making inroads in the Chinese market. In March, Chinese customs approved 20 Lithuanian milk companies for registration in China. 

Following the downgrade, analysts predicted that direct information consultation and political exchanges between the two countries will come to a standstill. Investment and trade, including agricultural products inspection and quarantine, will be severely affected, while some people exchange programs will be aborted. 

In addition, on issues related to Lithuania's own interests in the Asia-Pacific and other multilateral occasions, the decline of political mutual trust between the two sides will make it difficult for Lithuania to get support from China.