Lawmakers from three Baltic states reassure their support for Taiwan during a meeting with Tsai Ing-wen

10 lawmakers from the three Baltic states met Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Monday morning, and both sides highlighted the importance to safeguard the democratic way of life in their speeches. Matas Maldeikis, the head of the Taiwan Friendship group in the Lithuanian Parliament, said ensuring Taiwan’s success will be beneficial to Lithuania’s national security too.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met with 10 lawmakers from the three Baltic states at the presidential office on Monday. Tsai thanked Lithuania for donating two batches of COVID19 vaccines to Taiwan amid the island’s worst local outbreak earlier this year, and she said the move reflects the spirit of mutual support between democratic allies.

She also mentioned that given the fact that Taiwan and Lithuania have been expanding their bilateral relations over the last few months, she hopes Taiwan can also expand its relationship with Latvia and Estonia in the future.

“Taiwan and the Baltic nations share similar experiences of breaking free of authoritarian rule and fighting for freedom,” she said. “The democracy we enjoy today was hard-earned. This is something we all understand most profoundly.”

Matas Maldeikis, the head of the Taiwan Friendship Group in the Lithuanian Parliament, said members of the joint delegation respect Taiwanese people’s “perseverance and wisdom” in managing to build a successful economy and promote democracy while balancing a “complicated geopolitical environment.”

“The Lithuanian government’s pro-Taiwan policy has received wide support at home because preserving freedom and the rules-based international order is of vital interest for both Lithuania and Taiwan,” he said. “We are here to express solidarity with you.”

Formulating collective strategies against China for the Baltic state

Some experts think the delegation’s trip to Taiwan is not only reinforcing some of the promises and plans that Lithuania has made, but also fulfilling the goal of diversifying Lithuania’s diplomatic relations in the Indo Pacific region.

Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy, a postdoctoral researcher and a former political advisor in the European Parliament, says Lithuania has expressed the hope of diversifying its diplomatic relations before, and they want to deal with China through the 27+1 framework, rather than the original 17+1 framework.

In May, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis announced that the country decided to withdraw from the 17+1 cooperation framework because they believe it is more effective and united to deal with China through the 27+1 framework.

Given the fact that all three Baltic states have listed China as a threat in their recent intelligence reports, Ferenczy thinks the move to send lawmakers to Taiwan will allow the three countries to formulate a mutual strategy when they are dealing with threats from China.

“All three countries share the same concern towards Russia and they are now adding China to the list of threats,” she said. “I think this is an occasion that can help the three countries work out their strategy that is needed beyond the vision.”

“Cooperation with Taiwan is in our national interests”

In an interview before he arrived in Taiwan, Maldeikis said the importance of the Baltic delegation’s trip to Taiwan is to show the island nation that they have friends in Europe and that “no big power or geopolitical games can ever ruin the relationship between countries that want to have cooperation”. “It’s a symbolic gesture to show that Taiwan has friends in Europe,” he told DW.

Maldeikis also weighed in on China’s recent retaliation against Lithuania following the Baltic state’s attempt to strengthen cooperation with Taiwan. He said that even though Lithuania is a small country, China is still very concerned about its move to establish a relationship with Taiwan.

“They have to understand that no matter how they try to intimidate us, we will try to do things that are in our national interests,” he said. “We think cooperation with Taiwan is in our national interests and we will keep doing that.”

Additionally, Maldeikis also mentioned that more and more European countries are changing their views on China, as they begin to view China as a threat to their national security. “China’s policies internationally have backfired,” he said.

“They thought they have the power that every country has to be afraid of, but now they are starting to see that countries are not afraid of them. There is more distaste for their policies so this will be a big challenge for China in the long run,” Maldeikis added.

Due to the warming ties between Lithuania and Taiwan, China launched some retaliation against the Baltic state. In a statement released on Nov. 21, the day that Taiwan’s representative office in Vilnius began to operate, China announced that they will downgrade the diplomatic relationship with Lithuania.

China’s foreign ministry said the move had “undermined China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and created a “bad precedent internationally”. It said it would reduce its diplomatic engagement with the country to the level of charge d’affaires, one rung down from an ambassadorship.

“Taiwan’s success will be beneficial to Lithuania’s national security”

Last week, Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told media during his trip to Washington D.C. that Lithuania is showing the world how to withstand China. According to him, the Baltic state is doing so through diversifying its supply chain and uniting with fellow democracies.

Landsbergis said other countries had reached out to Lithuania and asked about their experiences and they “100 percent wish to have more space to make independent decisions about their foreign policy.”

Maldeikis told DW that he believes cooperating with Taiwan can benefit European countries in the long run because they don’t need to worry about the intimidation that may happen when they were dealing with China. “When you cooperate with Taiwan, you won’t lose your sovereignty. This is a very important difference between working with China and Taiwan. Lithuania wants to be an example of that,” he said.

“Cooperating with Taiwan can be beneficial for both sides and it’ll be a good example for other EU countries too,” he added.

Maldeikis thinks that the reason why Lithuania can withstand the pressure campaign from China is that the Baltic state still remembers the lessons they learned while fighting for independence in 1991, especially how it dealt with the pressure and intimidation from the Soviet Union.

“From that experience, we established a so-called value-based principle,” he said. “When we are seeing how authoritarian countries are targeting democratic countries with propaganda and social media, if we want to stay in this world, we should always tell the truth as it is. We shouldn’t play the games of turning a blind eye on big countries’ injustice.”

Additionally, he points out that the military pressure and propaganda that Taiwan is experiencing are things that Lithuania has gone through in the past, which makes Lithuanians think there are some similarities between their experiences and Taiwan’s current experience.

“This is why we want to help you because Lithuania knows that helping Taiwan will also help ourselves,” Maldeikis added. “The Indo Pacific is now a very important geopolitical area and if Taiwan can succeed, it is also good for Lithuania’s national security.”

While some think Lithuania’s move to enhance its relationship with Taiwan can inspire more European countries to follow suit, Ferenczy thinks the outside world should take a cautious approach to interpret the potential impact of Lithuania’s moves on European countries.

“We need to remind ourselves that every member state has a different relationship with China and they have competing interests,” she said. “There is a danger of setting whatever Lithuania is doing with Taiwan as the new standard, it’s a very high standard.”

“I think we need to assess every government’s gesture and measures that they take in the near future in their own context and not compare it to Lithuania,” she added.

Ferenczy thinks that the reason why Lithuania is willing to support Taiwan is due to the Russia factor, and she thinks the international community can expect a similar trajectory from Latvia and Estonia.

This piece was first published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese webiste.

William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.