Ex-president D. Grybauskaitė’s move – already in foreign press: unanswered questions and an unexpected reaction from China

Dalia Grybauskaitė DELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

The visit of former President Dalia Grybauskaitė to Taiwan has attracted the most attention, not among the Taiwanese themselves or the usual threatening Chinese, but among Lithuanians, Agne Černiauskaitė and Indrė Naureckaitė writes in lrytas.lt.

The former head of state’s trip, posing with the Lithuanian basketball team and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in front of the cameras, has fuelled talk not only about the possible start of an election campaign but also about the message she conveyed behind closed doors and whether it was coordinated with our politicians.

An unarranged visit?

Grybauskaitė did not go to Taiwan alone at the beginning of the week – she travelled there with a high-level group of US experts, the Atlantic Council delegation. It included former US Secretary of Defence Mark T. Esper, former Commander of the South Korean Armed Forces Retired Admiral Choi Yoon-hee, Atlantic Council.

The visit included meetings with the President of Taiwan, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Defence, Economic Affairs and Trade, defence and business representatives and non-governmental organisations.

What topics were discussed – it’s unclear. According to Marius Laurinavičius, although Grybauskaitė’s visit to Taiwan is, in any case, useful for Lithuania, it is also important whether it was coordinated with the country’s institutions and whether it was used to the benefit of Lithuanian politics. “I would have some doubts about this because Lithuania, unfortunately, after a very successful start of its policy towards Taiwan, later stopped and started to tread on the spot. Lithuania itself was scared of its own shadow after what it did with the opening of the Taiwanese mission and decided not to develop political relations anymore but to concentrate on economic relations,” the commentator explained to lrytas. lt. According to lrytas.lt, Grybauskaitė did not coordinate this visit with the Lithuanian officials responsible for foreign policy.

According to representatives of Grybauskaitė’s office, the former president was invited to lead a delegation of the Atlantic Council during a visit to Taiwan. Grybauskaitė’s representatives did not elaborate on the topics discussed and whether the visit was coordinated in Lithuania.

The Chinese government reacts very strictly to official visits to Taiwan by representatives of other countries, although the former president does not formally represent Lithuania. “The former President Grybauskaitė, as well as other outgoing heads of state, are not active politicians, i.e., politicians in office; therefore, their visits are a matter of their personal choice, but not of the state’s foreign policy,” representatives of the Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė commented to lrytas.lt.

For his part, Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabrielius Landsbergis paid tribute to Grybauskaitė, underlining that she has always been a great advocate for Lithuania with her strong backbone. “The former president has always had a strong backbone and made Lithuania famous. It is good to see that this has not changed. Visits by Western leaders to Taiwan are common practice. I see the president’s visit as positive and beneficial for Lithuania in further developing economic relations with Taiwan. Our partners positively perceive Lithuania’s activity in the Indo-Pacific region. This and similar visits contribute to our government’s goal of pursuing a foreign policy that protects human rights and freedom,” Landsbergis said in a commentary sent to the portal lrytas. lt.

The Communist Chinese leadership considers Taiwan part of the People’s Republic of China and opposes official contacts between its diplomatic partners and the Taipei government. However, Taiwan, with a population of 23 million, has long considered itself independent.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has heightened fears that China may annex the democratic island by force. Tensions over Taiwan have not been this high since 1990. The government and those in power have taken the side of democratic Taiwan by allowing the Taiwanese to operate in the country, using the island’s name in the title. This unprecedented move drew the wrath of the Chinese government, which restricted relations with Vilnius and blocked Lithuanian exports. After receiving criticism even from President Gitanas Nausėda, the ruling party has paused a bit and has recently developed relations with Taiwan more through an economic prism.

Although Taiwan has been visited multiple times by our parliamentary delegation for over a year, the Speaker of the Seimas Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, who has promised to visit, has not yet taken this step.”

The former president’s trip, which is fuelling passions about the elections, has also revived rumours that she will try to return to the Simono Daukantas Square Palace. Grybauskaitė, who has been more in the shadows recently, has decided to come out of it. Recently, a photo of her with former political team members exploded on social networks, accompanied by the caption: ‘The strategy is set. Everything is ready. #2024.” And this week, images of Grybauskaitė on a trip to Taiwan posing with the Lithuanian basketball team, which was playing a control match against Latvia on the island, have been circulating on the internet. The former head of state visited the team’s dressing room, shook hands with the players, shouted the traditional slogan “We are for Lithuania!” and gave a speech.

“I told the Taiwanese people that I can’t return to Lithuania without a basketball match because they won’t accept me if I don’t attend the games. I had to see their new submarine today, the only one they are building. I had to refuse. I hope it is not for nothing and that you will be all right. I saw how good you look. I miss you all,” Grybauskaitė said in a video circulating on social media. She also appeared on TV for hundreds of thousands of viewers during the basketball match itself, where she took photos with the players and smiled cheerfully at the cameras. Both after the first time and now, Grybauskaitė’s representatives have assured her that she has no intention of running in the presidential elections. However, Grybauskaitė’s supporters are not giving up – a petition calling on the former Head of State to run again is spreading rapidly online. The President’s Office is already fearful of a possible strong challenger. In response to Grybauskaitė’s visit, Frederik Jansonas, the Chief Adviser to the Head of State and Head of the Communications Group, said that Nausėda could watch a basketball game on TV.

Pavilionis: “Those in need knew everything”

Žygimantas Pavilionis, a conservative and chairman of the Seimas Committee on Foreign Affairs (FCO), called Grybauskaitė’s visit to Taiwan an essential political step and said that the former president had done what was usual for her – she had done what no one else had done in the beginning, although later everyone started following in her footsteps, for example, by calling Russia a terrorist state in 2014. “This visit shows that the world is united, that today we are no longer separated by geographical distances, that today we are united by the values that unite us, no matter how far away we are,” Pavilionis told the lrytas.lt website. The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee is convinced that Grybauskaitė’s trip to Taiwan is a strategic step far into the future, and the MP regretted that the current president’s advisors are stuck in the past.

When assessing the statement of F. Jansons, the chief advisor of Nausėda and head of the communication group, that “the President can watch basketball at home” and therefore there is no need for him to go to Taiwan, Pavilionis recalled the long career of F. Jansons at the “Respublika”.

“I see Mr. Jansons trying in various ways to bring the Presidency to the level of “Respublika”. I was filled with a strange shame when I read those words and realised that the man not only has no moral values but does not have a basic knowledge and understanding of what is happening in this world. This seems to be the style of the “Respublika”,” said Pavilionis. The conservative said that he did not see any problem with the fact that Grybauskaitė did not discuss the issue of her visit to Taiwan with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or other Lithuanian institutions.

“We are a free country, and citizens of a free country can travel freely to any other free country. (…) Those who needed to know knew everything – including the Americans themselves. If the Americans coordinated the president’s visits – and the Americans are NATO’s main allies, on whom our existence depends – then calm down, dear Jansons – everything will be fine,” said Pavilionis. The politician also urged not to draw “far-reaching conclusions” that Grybauskaitė is launching her election campaign with a visit to Taiwan and a basketball match.

” In my own Naujamiestis district, the former president is named as one of the possible candidates; she has been suggested.”. I interviewed her once, and I know that many people think she would be a wonderful president of the country if she came back. However, she is a person who makes her own decisions. We have recently seen statements on this topic – I think we should leave it to the president herself,” Pavilionis urged.

Not a word about the visit in the Chinese media and social networks

 For his part, Raigirdas Boruta, Associate Expert of the China Studies Programme at the Centre for East European Studies (CESE), compared how China and Taiwan reacted to Grybauskaitė’s visit to Taiwan. The analyst noted several articles in the local media in Taiwan describing Grybauskaitė’s meeting with Taiwanese President T. Ing-wen and the politicians’ visit to the Lithuanian and Latvian national basketball teams’ control matches. “Former Lithuanian President: ‘Taiwanese are the authors of their destiny'”, “Former Lithuanian President accompanying the Atlantic Council delegation: ‘We are all Taiwanese'”, “Former Lithuanian President: ‘Some powers threaten small countries because they lack self-confidence'”.

At the same time, according to Boruta, there was no mention of Grybauskaitė’s visit to Taiwan in the Chinese media and social networks. “Thus, China does not react much to visits by high-ranking foreign politicians, as these can often be seen as “private trips”. Beijing considers this form of communication with Taiwan acceptable and does not object to it too much (of course, it is unhappy about it). In the context of relations with Lithuania, China has repeatedly stressed that unofficial visits do not violate the 1991 Treaty on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the Republic of Lithuania and the Republic of China, which states that “the Government of the Republic of Lithuania undertakes not to establish or maintain official contacts with Taiwan,” the analyst explained. And although China did not shine with lightning bolts, Boruta said, the high level of ignoring this visit shows that the extremely heightened foreign attention to Taiwan is forcing Beijing to be more careful in selecting what the local audience needs to know and what not. “After all, from a Chinese perspective, it would be difficult to explain why “Taiwan Province”, compared to other provinces in the country, receives a disproportionate number of visits and attention from foreign dignitaries”, he said.

You may like

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.