After Lithuania became the only European Union (EU) country to give governmental support to the visit of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, to Taiwan, Beijing said that it had further damaged bilateral relations between Lithuania and China, writing at lrytas.lt news portal.
Political experts and business representatives on Žinių Radio asked whether Lithuania-China relations could deteriorate further and what the visit of the Speaker of the Seimas Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen to Taiwan, which is currently being discussed, would mean for Lithuania.
The importance of one message
Despite Chinese threats, the third most important US politician, New Pelosi, landed on August 2 in Taiwan, which Beijing considers its territory.
Shortly afterwards, Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis welcomed the move on Twitter: “Now Pelosi has opened the door to Taiwan much wider. I am sure that other defenders of freedom and democracy will soon enter Taiwan as well”.
For its part, the Chinese diplomatic mission in Lithuania on Friday called the message damaging: “These misleading statements by some Lithuanian politicians further damage the bilateral relations between China and Lithuania, undermine the credibility of the country and the fundamental interests of its people”.
Konstantinas Andrijauskas, associate professor at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science at Vilnius University, said that it would be pretty challenging to imagine an even worse state of relations between Lithuania and China in the context of peace.
On the other hand, according to Andrijauskas, it would have been strange if the Lithuanian Foreign Minister, G. Landsbergis, had not said anything about Pelosi’s visit.
“I think that the Foreign Minister’s message was quite moderate in the context of our government’s attitude towards China over the past year and a half.
It would be very strange if the Minister remained silent and said nothing on a topic that has directly affected Lithuania”, the political analyst believes.
Asked why representatives of other EU countries did not send similar messages, Andrijauskas also notes the personal role of Landsbergis.
“Since Lithuania is an ice-breaker in this context, it is apparently expected to do so, and this also refers to the personal political capital that the Foreign Minister had accumulated in the context of the China issue when a very prominent publication in the Western world called him a “dragon slayer”.
This will be linked to Landsbergis’ name, so it would be very strange for him not to speak out on the subject,” the political scientist said.
Andrijauskas noted that some Lithuanian political analysts see Landsberg’s move as inconsistent in Lithuania’s foreign policy, arguing that the Minister’s message was too moderate and should have been more challenging.
Why is Lithuania Taiwan’s only defender in the EU?
Asked why Lithuania is the only one in the EU that is such a fierce supporter of Taiwan – is it pandering to the US, as China explains, or is it simply following a values-based policy, Andrijauskas said that both reasons are not contradictory.
“I don’t think there is a fundamental contradiction between the current government’s stance on human rights, on values-based policies, and those immediate security interests that indicate to us that the US, our most important security partner, is nevertheless prioritising China.
The political analyst noted that China is the country whose threat the Americans see most clearly – something we might not like”.
Reproaches from business
Landsbergis’ foreign policy towards China has been the subject of much criticism from Lithuanian businesses working with Beijing, which have had to reorient their business after the opening of Taiwan’s representative office in Lithuania.
A few weeks ago, Kęstutis Černeckas, a member of the Council of the Vilnius Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Crafts, said that the state support for businesses affected by the conflict with China is too small – only a few hundred million euros, when the Lithuanian economy could have a turnover of 2 billion euros with China.
Andrius Romanovskis, President of the Lithuanian Business Confederation (LVK), remarked during the programme that statements about such figures sound like demagogy.
“Naturally, businesses that have invested and suffered have the right to be angry. But talking about two billion sounds like a fairy tale – we know that our exports to China amount to several hundred million.
Perhaps that is the problem, that many businesses still believed in the illusion that they would make those billions in China, but they did not, and they did not make them. So, with all due respect to my colleague, this is a bit of demagoguery,” said Mr Romanovskis.
According to the President of the LVC, politics always affects business, and an experienced business assesses all risks.
“Now, this issue is probably not the most sensitive in Lithuania, and it is even the least sensitive. The tensions in the energy sector are much more important than the statement of one Minister or the assessments of a Chinese diplomat,” Romanovskis stressed.
Will there be a visit by V.Čmilytė-Nielsen?
After Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, Lithuanian rulers are also considering sending a high-ranking official to Taipei, with Seimas Speaker Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen saying that she intends to talk about a joint visit to Taiwan in her next meetings with EU leaders.
China has imposed personal sanctions on the politician by punishing Pelosi for her visit to Taiwan. However, political analyst K.Andrijauskas considered that such a prospect would probably not scare Čmilytė-Nielsen.
“It would be hard to imagine what additional things the Chinese could come up with to cause damage, especially to decision-makers. Personal sanctions, even against Lithuanian citizens, are already a fact – for example, the Member of the Seimas Dovila Šakalienė has been sanctioned.
This means that Ms Šakalienė or Ms Čmilytė-Nielsen will not be able to travel to China – I do not think this is a very important issue for them,” he said.
Following Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, China, dangerously close to the island’s shores, has launched large-scale military exercises, raising concerns about the security of the entire region.