The Biden administration is pledging its support to Lithuania as the small Baltic nation stands up to pressure on several fronts by the Chinese regime.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai promised “continuing strong support” to Lithuania during a Jan. 5 telephone call with its foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis. She said in a statement that the U.S. government would work with the European Union (EU) and its members to address the “coercive diplomatic and economic behavior” of China.
Lithuania infuriated Beijing late last year by allowing self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing claims is a runaway province with no right to diplomatic recognition, to open a de facto embassy in its capital, Vilnius.
In addition to downgraded diplomatic ties, Lithuania has since been locked in an escalated financial dispute as Beijing has pressured countries to halt the sourcing of materials from Lithuania and imposed a trade embargo over Lithuanian exports and imports.
During a joint press conference on Jan. 5 with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also reasserted the “immediate concern” about China’s attempts to bully Lithuania.
“China is pushing European and American companies to stop building products with components made in Lithuania or risk losing access to the Chinese market, all because Lithuania chose to expand their cooperation with Taiwan.”
The economic coercion tactics pose “a significant challenge” to shared values of democratic alliances and the international rule of law, said Blinken, who called for trans-Atlantic coordination with Germany to strengthen economic resilience and diverse sourcing supplies.
“Fundamentally, this is about what we’re for together, not what we’re against,” Blinken said.
Baerbock said that her country, “as Europeans, stand in solidarity at Lithuania’s side” and would ban forced labor products from entering its market.
During a call on Jan. 3 with Blinken and other foreign ministers, Landsbergis thanked the United States for its solidarity and support for Lithuania in the face of China’s political and economic pressure, the Lithuanian foreign ministry said.
Dovile Sakaliene, a member of Lithuania’s Parliament, said via Twitter the same day, “Domestic disputes shall not change the consistent Lithuanian foreign policy: our security depends upon solidarity, engagement of partners, and protecting democracy.”
The European Union’s top trade official said last month that the bloc would stand up to coercive measures imposed on Lithuania, which is a member state. Valdis Dombrovskis, a European Commission vice president from Latvia, said if necessary, the EU would take up the issue at the World Trade Organization.
The Export-Import Bank of the United States signed a $600 million export credit agreement with Lithuania in November last year in a bid to resist increased pressure from the Chinese regime.
Taiwan also said on Jan. 5 that it would set up a $200 million fund to invest in Lithuanian industries and boost bilateral trade, said Eric Huang, head of the Taiwanese representative office in Lithuania.
Meanwhile, Taiwan has redirected into its own market 120 shipping containers from Lithuania blocked by China, and will take “as much as possible” more, Huang said.
China recalled its ambassador from Vilnius in August 2021 before expelling Lithuania’s envoy in Beijing in November.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.