China is downgrading its diplomatic relations with Lithuania after Vilnius allowed Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) to open a de facto embassy in the Baltic state.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced the decision in a statement on Sunday after the Taiwanese Representative Office officially opened in Lithuania on November 18 despite Beijing’s strong opposition and repeated representations.
The statement said Vilnius had ignored China's "solemn stance" and the basic norms of international relations in allowing Chinese Taipei to set up its representative office in Lithuania, stressing that the move "undermined China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and grossly interfered in China's internal affairs" by creating a "bad precedent internationally.”
“Given the fact that the political foundation for an ambassadorial-level diplomatic relationship has been damaged by Lithuania, the Chinese government, out of the need to safeguard national sovereignty and basic norms governing international relations, has no choice but to downgrade its diplomatic relations with Lithuania to the chargé d’affaires level,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
"We urge the Lithuanian side to correct its mistakes immediately and not to underestimate the Chinese people's firm determination and staunch resolve to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity," it added.
The ministry emphasized that “Taiwan is never a country,” and “attempts to seek foreign support for political manipulation will prove a dead end.”
“There is only one China in the world and the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China,” the statement concluded. “The historical fact that the mainland and Taiwan belong to one and the same China cannot be changed.”
Back in August, China called on Lithuania to withdraw its ambassador from Beijing and said it would recall its own envoy to the Lithuanian capital in protest at the Baltic state’s decision to allow Chinese Taipei to open a de facto embassy in Vilnius.
China also halted freight trains to Lithuania and stopped issuing food export permits.
Taipei had earlier announced that its office in Vilnius would be called the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania, an announcement that infuriated Beijing. Other offices of Chinese Taipei in Europe and the United States, however, use the name of the city, Taipei, avoiding a reference to the island itself.
China has sovereignty over Chinese Taipei, and under the ‘One China’ policy, almost all world countries recognize that sovereignty, meaning that they should not have direct diplomatic contact with the self-proclaimed government in Taipei.
Beijing also opposes other countries pursuing ties with the island and has consistently warned Washington and other countries against engaging with Taipei.
Chinese Taipei’s secessionist President Tsai Ing-wen has independence aspirations and views the island as a sovereign state, rejecting the ‘One China’ principle. The US, though apparently abiding by the principle, has long courted Taipei and sells weapons to the self-governed island in an attempt to unnerve Beijing.