On Nov. 18, Taiwan opened a de-facto embassy in Vilnius, Lithuania, with Lithuania’s support, prompting backlash from China, who claims that this is a breach of the widely accepted One China policy.
This follows a rise in tension between China and Lithuania over Lithuania’s warming relations with Taiwan, which has resulted in Lithuania’s ambassador being expelled from Beijing.
Under current international norms, the People’s Republic of China is recognised as the only Chinese state, with Taiwan being part of China. This is despite the fact that no treaty was signed after the civil war to make this legitimate.
Lithuania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has assured China that it still follows the One China policy, although Lithuania retains its “right to expand cooperation with Taiwan,” which includes the creation of the Taiwanese Representative Office.
In response, China has downgraded its mission in Lithuania and, with the state-run Global Times reporting that China is considering retaliatory measures towards Lithuania, including economic measures. Another response has been a scare campaign from the Global Times and other Chinese media, defending Beijing and attempting to discourage support for Lithuania, though many people have seen through this blatant propaganda.
European Union leaders have defended the actions of Lithuania, claiming that they do not breach the EU’s One China policy. Meanwhile, America has also pledged economic support to Lithuania, whose trade relations with China will suffer as a result of the worsening relations between the two.
It is also possible that Lithuania will join nations like America, the United Kingdom, and Canada in a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Games, which are due to be held in Beijing in February. A diplomatic boycott would mean that no government officials would be sent, as a diplomatic protest against the Chinese government. This would send a message to Beijing that the world is not willing to submit to their demands.
Lithuania has now joined Australia on China’s bad side, suggesting that there is a developing trend of Western nations falling out of favour with China. As China makes more enemies, developing nations would be less willing to submit to Chinese demands, as they wouldn’t feel isolated if they refused to take orders from Beijing.
On Nov 26, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton claimed that China sees Australia as a “tributary state” that must submit. China responded by alleging that Australia is trying to undermine Chinese national security and “territorial integrity.”
Australian politicians from both sides of the aisle have called for a diplomatic boycott of China, although this depends on whether America commits to a boycott. An American boycott would have much more influence than merely an Australian one, so Australian alignment with America on this issue would allow for maximum effect.
China, through state-run media, has highlighted Lithuanian human rights violations, in an effort to curb support for Lithuania and isolate them. Australia has received similar treatment by China, who has pointed out Australian human rights violations to deflect from criticism of China.
In July, China demanded that Australia answer for crimes committed against the Aboriginal population. Meanwhile, China has continued to deny allegations of human rights violations and discrimination towards, as well as the cultural and physical genocide of, the Uyghur minority. In contrast, Australia has taken some steps to recognise the darker parts of its history.
As Western nations like Australia, and especially Lithuania, begin to take a harder stance on China, it appears that major world powers like the EU and USA are willing to support these smaller nations. One example of this is the controversial AUKUS alliance, which was created because of concerns about China.
Such a stance is risky, because of the brinksmanship between China and America that could have disastrous consequences for the rest of the world if it led to violence. However, should calmer heads prevail, the Western would demonstrate to China that diplomatic avenues, which would avert violence, would provide a better solution to the tensions between China and the West.
By demonstrating to China that Western nations are not willing to serve as what Dutton calls ‘tribute states,’ Lithuania has the potential to set a new norm in the West towards China that would lead to diplomatic solutions that have the potential to resolve the tension between these states. However, this should be approached carefully, so as to avoid provoking further tension.
Unless more nations follow Lithuania’s lead and overturn the international norm of the One China policy that has allowed China to amass so much influence and power, China’s growth will continue, with the potential for a war in the future. The nations of the world should act to contain Chinese expansionism, and be willing to confront them on all issues.
Stuart Jeffery, aka LibertyDownUnder, is the founder of the Australian Liberty Network. He is also the host of the Gumtree of Liberty and Gumtree of Liberty Live podcasts, and is editor of the Liberty Review. Stuart is currently studying a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts, majoring in international relations, at the University of Southern Queensland.