European experts say it’s unlikely for Lithuania to change the name of the Taiwan office
After China increases the pressure on Lithuania, Financial Times reported on Jan. 21 that the US suggested the Baltic state change the name of Taiwan’s representative office, which was viewed as the main source of friction between Beijing and Vilnius. However, experts think the possibility of Lithuania making the move is low because it could send a wrong signal to China.
Over the last few months, Taiwan’s interaction with European countries has attracted more international attention. After Lithuania enhances its interaction with Taiwan, China began to use economic means to intimidate the Baltic state, causing some Lithuanian politicians to call on its government to reconsider the impact created by the name of Taiwan’s representative office in Vilnius.
In an interview with Lithuanian media, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda described the name of Taiwan’s representative office as “a mistake” while a poll conducted by Lithuania’s foreign ministry showed that only 13 percent of Lithuanians support the government’s China policy, according to the Financial Times.
On Jan. 21, Financial Times cited several unnamed sources and reported that US diplomats have suggested the idea of changing the name of Taiwan’s representative office to Lithuanian officials, claiming the move may have “opened the door to Chinese coercion that risked undermining the expansion of ties with Taiwan”.
However, both the White House and Lithuanian Foreign Ministry have denied this information, while Taiwanese officials also claimed that they didn’t hear about the US making such suggestions.
“Anyone who suggests otherwise is not reflecting actual discussions between the US and Lithuania,” a spokesperson for the National Security Council told FT. “We respect and support Lithuania and Taiwan’s efforts to enhance their ties and practical co-operation.”
“Lithuania and the EU have abandoned the idea”
Lithuania’s foreign ministry described the information as a “disinformation campaign.” One unnamed Taiwanese official also told the FT that while some Lithuanian and EU officials considered changing the name of Taiwan’s representative office, they later concluded that it wouldn’t solve the problem.
“Once they start to compromise on Taiwan’s name . . . it would let the Chinese smell that what they are doing is working, and encourage China to put more pressure on Lithuania and others,” the official told FT.
Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy, a former political advisor to the European Parliament who is conducting research on Taiwan and EU relations, says it would not be wise to change the name of Taiwan’s representative office in Lithuania, because it would make China believe that its retaliation is effective.
“Lithuania is the country that has taken the decision to let Taiwan use the name of ‘Taiwan’ to set up its office so they need to live up to that,” she said. “If Lithuania or the foreign ministry decides to change that, it will undermine Lithuania’s own credibility and legitimacy.”
Marcin Jerzewski, a research fellow at the think tank Taiwan NextGen Foundation, says even if Lithuania decides to change the name of Taiwan’s representative office, it still won’t limit the coercion from China.
“I believe a possible name-change of the office will backfire because it will essentially show that China has a lot of sway in the west and it has a lot of sway in the European Union,” he said.
Slovenia in talk with Taiwan about setting up potential representative offices
Even though Lithuania experienced huge pressure from China after enhancing its ties with Taiwan, there are still some European countries that expressed interest in enhancing ties with Taiwan.
Last week, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa told Indian television station Doordarshan that Slovenia is in talk with Taiwan about potentially setting up representative offices. However, he also emphasized that the offices are not at the level of embassies.
Jansa said the decision could have been fulfilled earlier if he had the support of the Slovenian parliament, and he emphasized that many EU member states already have “some kind of representative offices” with Taiwan.
Jansa also criticized China’s policies towards Taiwan, saying that “it’s difficult to listen to a capital with a one-party system lecturing about democracy and peace around the world.” Under the circumstances of the global COVID19 pandemic, he thinks including Taiwan in the World Health Organization will bring a lot of benefits.
“I think it would also benefit China to have a neighboring country be a member of such an organization because we saw exactly in this pandemic situation that the virus doesn’t know any borders,” he said in the interview.
Jansa’s comments attracted angry responses from the Chinese government. Zhao Lijina, the spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry, said on Jan. 19 that China was shocked by Jansa’s comments and was strongly opposed to it.
“No one should underestimate the strong determination, firm will, and strong ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy says Jansa’s comments are very important because it suggests that China’s retaliation doesn’t work. However, she also thinks the international community shouldn’t simply assume that Slovenia is copying Lithuania’s method of enhancing ties with Taiwan entirely.
“Slovenia is using Lithuania as an inspiration to see how things can go,” she said. “How things will go in Slovenia depends not just on China, but also how the EU stands with Lithuania.”
“Estonia and Czech Republic’s views towards Taiwan are worth following”
Marcin Jerzewski thinks it will be worth observing the degree of assertiveness when other EU countries consider enhancing ties with Taiwan. He thinks that other EU countries that may consider enhancing ties with Taiwan include Estonia and the Czech Republic.
According to him, Estonia is the other country that has questioned the “17+1 framework” initiated by China. Last year, the Estonian President suggested the EU interact with China in the format of 27+1, and the Baltic state also didn’t send a representative to a summit for cultural ministers from the 17+1 countries.
Additionally, Jerzewski mentioned the new Czech Foreign Minister’s more “hawkish” stance towards China and Russia, as well as the new government’s plan to strengthen cooperation with Taiwan and other democratic countries in the Indo-Pacific region.
“We are seeing clear signs that the Czech Republic is interested in pursuing closer ties with Taiwan,” he said. “I don’t think the interests of building closer ties with Taiwan have subsided in the EU.”
This piece was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.