In November, Communist China downgraded its diplomatic status with the tiny European country of Lithuania from a full ambassador to a charge d’affaires, Then in early December, the Communist Party in Beijing ordered multinational companies to sever ties with the tiny European nation of Lithuania or be shut out of the market in mainland China.
So why is China coming down on this small European country like a ton of bricks?
It goes back a couple of years. In 2019, the Lithuanian Department of State Security called out Communist China in its annual report on threats to their country. Soon after, President Gitanas Nauseda warned against rising Chinese investment in developing Lithuania’s ports. This was allowed to simmer until May 2021, when Lithuania bailed from the “17+1 format.” This China-proposed program involved cooperation with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe with Beijing regarding infrastructure. Lithuania took a hard look at China’s Huawei company offering 5G infrastructure in Europe and found that Chinese-made phones have chips in them that could be used to censor anti-Bejing content.
China reacted by recalling its ambassador in August, who obviously wasn’t being very effective at getting Lithuania to go along with the rest of Europe.
In September, Lithuania’s Defense Ministry declared that Huawei, along with Xiaomi, and OnePlus(also Chinese companies) were a threat to their national security and told their citizens not to buy Chinese-made phones.
Then the Lithuanians doubled down again. They invited Taiwan, or the Republic of China to open an office in the capital, Vilnius. Not a formal embassy with full relations mind you, just an office called, “The Taiwanese Representative’s Office.” This name choice was intentional. Most other countries refer to such officers as coming from Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, but not by the name of the country. You see, Beijing views Taiwan as belonging to them. It is a rebellious province they want to have back as a part of the mainland. The Chinese in Taiwan say that they are the actual government of China in exile on the island after the Maoist Revolution seized power after WWII. They assert that the Communists in Beijing have never ruled Taiwan and if they have anything to say about it, they never will.
Taiwan also makes phones and telecom equipment and this is what Lithuania is after. Phones without censorship chips in them or having all their calls, emails, and text messages routed through servers controlled by the Communist Party in Beijing. This is data that China would hoover up and analyze for intelligence purposes as a matter of absolute certainty. It would also give Communist China de-facto control over data services in Europe that they could shut off on a whim or when it was of strategic importance in a conflict.
That was the last straw for the Communist Party and they are showing their fangs by trying to enforce a boycott of international companies against Lithuania, including hundreds of companies in countries that are part of the European Union, which is supposed to be one big happy family of European economies that compete with China, not kowtow to their demands. China has erased Lithuania from its customs system as well, which pretty much closes the country to Lithuanian and could also invalidate the VISAs of any Lithuanians in China. This is a matter of sufficient seriousness that Lithuania shuttered its embassy and evacuated all its personnel.
If China could figure out a way to fly bombers near the Lithuanian coast, they would probably do that as well.
Lithuania elected a conservative government in their last general election and these moves are a reflection of their values. They are anti-communist, deeply suspicious of Russia, and want the continuous involvement(and protection) of the United States in Europe. In keeping with this, Lithuanian representatives recently visited the United States and secured a $600 million trade deal which is also a signal of U.S. support for their position against China.
The EU for its part is backing Lithuania and promising the usual unnamed “consequences” if Bejing doesn’t take a step back. We will have to wait to see if the EU actually means it. It may also serve as a moment of clarity for European nations heavily dependent on goods from China that even that rubber novelty dog-poop they order from Shanghai can have long strings attached.
This conflict also shows the two faces of Communist China, the smiling face that promises easy credit terms and free trade from Chinese owned companies and the angry face of retribution when the Communists in Beijing don’t get what they want and they throw the full weight of their government behind extortionate and coercive means to get entire countries in line behind them. And that is the true face behind all those smiles.
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