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Are the US, Bucharest Nine, and Taiwan behind Lithuania’s tiff with China?

Relations between Lithuania and China will test the US and the EU (Photo: IANS)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with the Bucharest Nine group on Monday to discuss Lithuania-China relations amid mounting diplomatic pressure on the Baltic country by China.

In a statement by the State Department, spokesperson Ned Price said: "They (Secretary Blinken and Foreign Ministers of the Bucharest Nine group) also highlighted their solidarity with Lithuania in the face of escalating political pressure and economic coercion by the People's Republic of China".

Lithuania–the tiny east-European nation, is a part of the European Union (EU) and also North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Blinken is following up with the Bucharest Nine group following US President Joe Biden's call with the nine East European allies in early December. Biden had discussed security issues in the region and also reinforced American support of collective defence for NATO allies.

The US President followed up his December talks once again this Monday.

The Bucharest Nine group consists of Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia.

The friction between Lithuania and China, which began in November after the European nation allowed Taiwan to open a representative office in its capital Vilnius, has escalated into a full fledged confrontation. In December, Beijing withdrew its ambassador and downgraded diplomatic relations with Lithuania.

Beijing also demanded that Lithuanian diplomats surrender their identity documents in order to downgrade their diplomatic status. Feeling intimidated, Lithuanian diplomats left Beijing in a huff. A furious Beijing also asked multinational companies to not trade with Lithuania.  

In December last year, Blinken also took up the case of Lithuania with the EU. He spoke with Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, to tackle the escalating political and economic pressure on Lithuania which is now being borne by European and American companies.

Over the last few years, China has come down heavily through its famed wolf warrior diplomacy and through diplomatic means on countries that have formalised relations with Taiwan, whom it considers an integral part of the Chinese mainland.
The Lithuanian move to open up the 'Taiwan Representative Office' was a red flag to Beijing as it meant giving legal recognition to Taiwan as a separate entity from mainland China.

Amidst the fast-moving downward spiral in bilateral relations, Taiwan has been lending economic and diplomatic support to Lithuania. Now Lithuania is finding support from the US in a bid to counter the all-pervasive Chinese pressure.

Blinken also discussed the Russian buildup along the Ukrainian border with the Bucharest Nine group.