Lithuania as US agent poses threat to EU unity
Published: Dec 11, 2021 01:23 PM
Gambling on crumbs from the US' table Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Gambling on crumbs from the US' table Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Two days after Lithuania asked the EU to intervene on its behalf to deal with the alleged Chinese political and economic pressure amid the diplomatic row caused by the Baltic country's  relations with the island of Taiwan, the European Commission, the bloc's executive branch, on Wednesday put forward what it called an "anti-coercion instrument" related to what it views as unfair trade pressure. The next day, the EU confirmed it was investigating Lithuania's accusations against China, saying "if the information received were to be confirmed, the EU would also assess the compatibility of China's action with its obligations under the World Trade Organization." 

All these EU moves were quickly interpreted as "EU's support" for Lithuania in the country's spat with China by some anti-China European politicians. Reinhard Buetikofer, an anti-China vanguard in the European Parliament, tweeted Wednesday the EU's "anti-coercion" instrument is welcomed as the "Lithuania case demonstrates the need for such an instrument." 

After Lithuania provoked China over the Taiwan question, causing relations to be downgraded to the level of charge d'affaires, it tried hard to create an impression that it has the EU's backing. In a letter to EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis and the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday, Lithuania's Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis stressed the importance of "EU unity and solidarity." 

As a bloc, the EU emphasizes a unified foreign policy and has the need to demonstrate unity and solidarity. However, different member states have different demands and interests when it comes to how to develop ties with China, the EU cannot sacrifice the overall interests of the bloc to pay for the anti-China misdeeds of a tiny country as Lithuania. 

How far can EU's support go? 

Gao Jian, director of the Center for British Studies at Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times that the support the EU has offered to Lithuania so far is symbolic. "The EU may provide support for Lithuania in so-called moral and verbal terms, but it is unlikely to offer any substantial support," Gao said.   

Although the EU's anti-economic coercion instrument was proposed at a time when Lithuania was having a spat with China, the instrument is not specifically designed to target China. According to Politico, the European Commission's proposal for an "anti-coercion" weapon comes after years of the EU complaining that it is vulnerable to what it called economic blackmail from countries that exploit divisions between European nations. Euronews attributed the introduction of the instrument to "controversial cases that have put the EU, a long-time advocate of open markets and free trade, in an increasingly uncomfortable position," including former US president Donald Trump slapping tariffs on European steel and aluminum. 

In the joint statement on Wednesday by EU's trade chief Valdis Drombovskis and its top diplomat Josep Borrell, EU also emphasized that it remains committed to its one-China policy and recognizes the government of the People's Republic of China as the sole government of China. It said the EU will pursue cooperation and exchanges with Taiwan in areas of interest within the framework of this long-established policy. 

George Tzogopoulos, a lecturer at the European Institute in Nice, France, told the Global Times that it's obvious to see continuity in the European approach (One-China policy), not discontinuity. "The EU policy is consistent. The EU has always been, and will continue, applying its One-China policy consistently," he noted. 

Safeguarding EU unity or sabotaging it? 

Lithuania and the anti-China forces within the Europe which are rallying for support for Lithuania in the name of EU unity and solidarity are attempting to kidnap EU's China policy, and they are actually posing the threats to EU's unity. 

Lithuania's provocations against China, regardless of the EU's overall interests, have brought challenges to the EU's handling of its relations with China, which is not conducive to the formulation of EU's unified foreign policy, said Yan Shaohua, an associate research fellow at the Center for China-Europe Relations of Fudan University. Yan believes the EU wasn't meant to encourage Lithuania to go further on its anti-China path when the bloc put forward the so-called anti-economic coercion instrument and pressured China with a WTO lawsuit over whether China's economic measures against Lithuania are in line with WTO rules. 

Lithuania is asking for "EU solidarity" against China. Ironically, when it unilaterally and recklessly decided to allow the island of Taiwan to open a representative office, a de facto embassy, in Vilnius, it didn't consult with its European allies. Where did it put "EU unity and solidarity" then?  

Now, ignoring other EU members' interests, Lithuania is trying to kidnap the EU onto a path to confront China,but it won't succeed. "Different countries in the EU have completely different demands in terms of trade and relations with China. Lithuania's trade volume with China is small, but European countries which have greatly benefited from bilateral trade and cooperation with China will definitely not support the EU to go too far in confronting China over the Lithuania case and the Taiwan question," Gao said.

The anti-economic coercion instrument has excited some anti-China politicians. They said it could be used in the dispute between China and Lithuania. The anti-coercion instrument is aimed at seeking a collective response to countries that what the EU thinks wield undue pressure on any of the bloc's member, it will also have a serious impact on EU's economic cooperation with countries such as the US and Japan. Are other EU countries willing to risk trade disputes with their major economic partners just to defend Lithuania? 

Washington factor

There is no secret that the US is manipulating Lithuania's provocations against and confrontation with China. Senior officials of the Biden administration, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, on various occasions stressed "strong US support for Lithuania" amid "attempted coercion" from China. The US granted a $600 million export credit agreement to Lithuania after it screwed up relations with China, the only tiny reward besides verbal support the Baltic country has gained from the US. 

The US will be the biggest beneficiary if the EU alienates from China or worsens ties with China over the Lithuania case and the Taiwan question, Chinese analysts said. The US is hoping to rope in the EU into its strategy against China. It will take every opportunity to instigate some forces and countries in the Europe to make a fuss on the Taiwan question and sow discord among EU regarding relations with China. 

Lithuania is an agent of the US. It's also a trouble the US has created for the Europe. The EU's China policy should be decided by the EU as a whole based on the bloc's interests rather than being kidnapped by a Baltic country for the purpose of pleasing the US.