Lithuania: A Case Study in CCP Coercion

'A single spark can start a prairie fire'
March 21, 2022 Updated: March 25, 2022


Mao Zedong wrote a short document called “A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire” on Jan. 5, 1930, stating his belief that communism would spread like wildfire. As a result, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is extremely sensitive to anyone or any country that questions or criticizes its carefully crafted propaganda, especially anyone who challenges the “forbidden” concept of an independent democratic Taiwan.

Lithuania took a courageous step in that direction in 2021 by opening a representative office that unbolted the door to the CCP’s incredulous machinations. In effect, the CCP was afraid of the single spark that Lithuania lit, which it quickly responded to. Ironically, the CCP would have to deal with the same Chinese proverb bouncing back at them—specifically the increasing acceptance of an independent democratic Taiwan by more nations.

The Lithuanian Example

In March 2021, Lithuania announced that it planned to establish a representative mission in Taiwan, not an embassy because it followed the other European countries in not recognizing Taiwan as an independent country. Lithuania also criticized Beijing for its treatment of the Uyghurs, calling it a genocide.

In August 2021, Lithuania and Taiwan agreed on a timeframe to open a representative mission in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, named the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania, instead of the CCP’s “preferred” name of Taipei Representative Office. On Nov. 18 of the same year, Taiwan officially opened its office in Vilnius using the forbidden identifier “Taiwanese.”

The naming issue caused a major kerfuffle in Beijing because Lithuania hadn’t followed the CCP’s “rule,” the office represented a new country establishing de facto diplomatic relations with Taiwan (the fewer countries that have representatives in Taiwan, the happier the CCP is). The CCP feared that Lithuania would start a trend not only in Europe but the rest of the world—“a prairie fire.”

All this diplomatic jockeying by the CCP is about its “one China” vision of the world—there cannot be a People’s Republic of China and a Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name) at the same time. There is only “China” and its “disobedient province” will be rightfully returned to them one way or another.

As for the other Baltic states, Taiwan currently has a representative office (de facto embassy) in Latvia called the Taipei Mission in the Republic of Latvia. Estonia has no official mission yet. Both of these countries were interested in watching the drama unfold. Slovenia, a former Yugoslav republic, announced in January 2022 that it would establish an official representative office in Taiwan—name to be determined. This action further inflamed the CCP because it was exactly what it feared—other countries stepping forward and establishing formal relations with Taiwan.

There are 13 countries and the Holy See that recognize Taiwan as an independent country with fully functioning embassies. Another 59 countries have representative offices in the island nation, and Taiwan has reciprocal offices in those countries, totaling 72 countries (including countries with embassies). With 193 countries represented in the United Nations, Taiwan could add many more representative offices with the remaining countries even though it has no seat at the U.N.

Epoch Times Photo
Staff outside the Taiwan Representative Office in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Nov. 18, 2021. (Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP, File)

The CCP’s foreign ministry’s response to Lithuania’s action was that it was “shocked by this and strongly opposed to it.” These actions have broken the CCP’s spell on the rest of the countries. The CCP wants all countries to remove Taiwan from the world stage, thus denying it any voice now, and when the time comes to take it over, without any protest from the rest of the world.

Beijing’s initial response to Lithuania announcing the new office in August 2021 was to recall its ambassador to Lithuania. Then three months later, the CCP downgraded its diplomatic mission from an embassy to the “charge d’affaires” level. Not long after, the regime imposed coercive economic and other measures against Lithuania.

The CCP’s political warfare actions employed against Lithuania are the following:

Diplomatic Warfare

  • Expelling the Lithuanian ambassador from Beijing, causing Lithuania to close its embassy in Beijing.

Sanction, Trade, and Legal Warfare (also called Lawfare)

  • Blocking Lithuanian imports by removing Lithuania from the Chinese Commercial Register—a move that makes customs clearance impossible (state and corporate level sanctions).
  • Denying credit lines to Lithuanian companies.
  • Blocking imports from other EU states if they have components from Lithuania (state and corporate level sanctions).
  • Blocking import of existing orders from China.
  • Telling multinational companies to sever ties with Lithuania or face denial of access to the Chinese market (corporate level sanctions). This action was the first time that the CCP targeted third-party companies.

Psychological and Media Warfare

  • Making counter-accusations against Lithuania: for example, the CCP accuses Lithuania of human rights violations of Belarus migrants and its past discrimination of Polish and Jewish minorities.
  • Making implied threats toward other countries for attempting to copy Lithuania’s diplomatic actions.
  • Making implied threats to other companies that develop commercial ties with Lithuanian companies because Lithuania opened a Taiwanese Representative Office.

The CCP tried to put maximum pressure on Lithuania through political warfare, mainly by using lawfare that included psychological, media, and diplomatic warfare. In response, the Lithuanian government said it would reevaluate the naming convention for the representative office but would nevertheless maintain a representative office with Taiwan. In other words, Vilnius hinted that it might follow the naming convention used by other European countries.

Beijing denied conducting any embargo on Lithuania to avoid getting in trouble with the World Trade Organization (WTO). The CCP follows Mao’s favorite admonishment from “On Protracted War”: “There can never be too much deception in war.”

However, the EU claims that there is evidence that Beijing is conducting the embargo by refusing to clear Lithuanian goods through customs, rejecting import applications, and applying pressure on EU companies to remove Lithuanian products from their respective supply chains. The EU has submitted a complaint to the WTO, but the slow WTO dispute resolution process hampers the EU; some experts state that it will take years to litigate.

As a result of the CCP’s political warfare on Lithuania, the EU leadership has begun to design a rapid EU mechanism to help support EU members when they are singled out for a boycott. The mechanism was probably something the CCP did not expect and could impact its ability to use intimidation effectively and efficiently on future EU countries.

Additionally, after years of neglect, the European Parliament adopted a resolution in October 2021, “calling for closer EU relations with Taiwan and sent its first official delegation to visit Taiwan the following month,” further infuriating the CCP and demonstrating its inability to stop the fire.

taiwan premier Su
Taiwan’s premier Su Tseng-chang (C) with European Union parliamentarians in Taipei, Taiwan, on Nov. 3, 2021. (Executive Yuan via AP)

Following the November 2021 opening of the Taiwanese Representative Office in Vilnius, several European countries were initially hesitant about supporting Lithuania since they had not used the forbidden word “Taiwanese” for their representative offices in their countries. For example, Germany and France were reportedly not supportive of the Lithuanian action.

In 2008, France was also the object of the CCP’s wrath (products and some stores were boycotted) when former President Nicolas Sarkozy met with the Dalai Lama, another “hot button” issue.

Eventually, both Germany and France came around to supporting Lithuania even though the sanctions impacted Germany the most. The Polish think tank, Center for Eastern Studies, summarized its analysis:

“The Chinese government’s trade boycott of Lithuania risks causing economic losses for Germany and weakening the cohesion of the EU’s common market. However, Berlin is unlikely to take any decisive actions—such as pushing through retaliation—due to its huge dependence on the Chinese market, as well as differences of opinion within the government on what direction its Beijing policy should take … Beijing intends to achieve a broader and more complex effect: to devastate the cooperative ties in the Baltic economy, and threaten the cohesion of European integration.”

Luckily for Lithuania, only about 1 percent of its total trade is with China. In contrast, other European countries rely on heftier export trade, including Germany at 17 percent, Slovakia at 13 percent, and Denmark at 12.5 percent. The U.S. exports to China are 7.8 percent of its total exports, and total trade (imports and exports) is a little over 14 percent.

Nevertheless, European analysts continue to be concerned that the CCP is using Lithuania and other European countries to create divisiveness in the EU since many countries continue to be worried about Taiwan’s independence, the genocide in East Turkestan (Xinjiang), oppression in Tibet, Hong Kong, and other democratic advocates, and the persecution of Falun Gong, Christians, and other faiths.

Paradoxically, as the Russia-Ukraine war drags on, the EU appears to be wooing China into playing a mediator role, thus deflating EU efforts to counter the CCP’s sanctions against Lithuania and other countries like Slovenia. In other words, one benefit of the Russia-Ukraine war for China is that it has allowed Beijing to deflect the EU criticism of the CCP bullying Lithuania. Thus, the CCP has effectively tempered the other EU countries from reacting to the punishment it meted out to Lithuania.

The Russia-China oil and gas agreement signed on Feb. 4 sets up Russia to sell over $117.5 billion in petrochemicals to China over the next 25 to 30 years. This action allows Russia to be less dependent on cash from Europe and to have a reliable partner (China) that will be less likely to impose trade and financial warfare.

As the EU applies more and more pressure on Russia to stop attacking Ukraine and to withdraw its troops, the more Russia is forced to switch selling its oil and gas resources from EU countries to China. Having the EU ask Beijing to moderate between Russia and Ukraine also places the CCP in a unique position where it can encourage discord between the EU and the United States and possibly within the EU, as well as potentially weaken their alliances.

Polish MiG-29 planes
Two Polish MiG-29s fly over the air base in Malbork, Poland, on April 29, 2014. (Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images)

Some of this unraveling is occurring without involving the CCP. The complete failure of the United States to coordinate a whole of government response to the Polish request to send MiG-29s to the Ukrainian air force via the United States was completely botched by the Biden administration when Secretary of State Antony Blinken initially gave the “green light” on March 6, yet the White House gave a “red light” later in the week during Vice President Kamala Harris’ ad hoc trip to Poland.


Although the CCP’s political warfare using various methods such as economic, psychological, diplomatic, and legal assaults on Lithuania might have been blunted by the lack of significant trade between China and Lithuania, the CCP was also testing out its tools not only in combination, but also their sequencing.

Furthermore, the CCP hopes that because of its punitive actions against Lithuania, other European countries with greater trade and connectivity to China would hesitate to “offend” or “insult” Beijing and realize that there will be swift political warfare costs for anyone who deviates from the script.

In addition to testing its political warfare weapons against Lithuania, the CCP also helped Russia by shaking Lithuania’s confidence in its relationships with the EU and NATO. As Russia embarked on its invasion of Ukraine, NATO reinforced the Baltic states, including Lithuania, just in case Russia made a move into those NATO nations. The Russians were probably very happy that the CCP had acted fiercely and swiftly against Lithuania and sent similar deterrence messages to many of the other former Soviet bloc countries to stay in line, and stated that the CCP is on Russia’s side.

In a similar manner, when Beijing did not provide any support to Ukraine when Russia invaded, it appears that the Russia and China relationship trumps all other relationships and is further reinforced by their Joint Statement signed on Feb. 4:

“The sides call for the establishment of a new kind of relationships between world powers on the basis of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation. They [Russia and China] reaffirm that the new inter-State relations between Russia and China are superior to political and military alliances of the Cold War era. Friendship between the two States has no limits, there are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation, strengthening of bilateral strategic cooperation is neither aimed against third countries nor affected by the changing international environment and circumstantial changes in third countries.”

As both countries have identified their goals and objectives, they have agreed to support each other over all other agreements. Russia’s support for the CCP is clearly stated in the Joint Statement: “The Russian side reaffirms its support for the One-China principle, confirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and opposes any forms of independence of Taiwan.”

Beijing’s support for Russia is clear: Russia and China “oppose further enlargement of NATO and call on the North Atlantic Alliance to abandon its ideologized cold war approaches, to respect the sovereignty, security, and interests of other countries, the diversity of their civilizational, cultural, and historical backgrounds, and to exercise a fair and objective attitude towards the peaceful development of other States.”

By swiftly and harshly using political warfare tools to attack any country that steps out of line, the CCP is employing Mao’s guidance in reverse, to be careful about anyone who might be a spark that “can start a prairie fire” or to use another Chinese idiom, “Kill the chicken to scare the monkey,” which means making an example out of someone to threaten others.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Guermantes Lailari is a retired USAF Foreign Area Officer specializing in the Middle East and Europe as well as counterterrorism, irregular warfare, and missile defense. He has studied, worked, and served in the Middle East and North Africa for over 14 years and similarly in Europe for six years. He was a U.S. Air Force Attaché in the Middle East, served in Iraq and holds advanced degrees in International Relations and Strategic Intelligence. He researches authoritarian and totalitarian regimes that threaten democracies. He will be a Taiwan Fellow in Taipei during 2022.