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Lithuania should consider formally recognizing Taiwan

Both countries share experience dealing with an authoritarian neighbor

Lithuania should consider formally recognizing Taiwan

(CNA photo)

KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) — If you had the pleasure of wandering around the Food Taipei 2021 expo which opened Wednesday (Dec. 22), you may well have happened upon the Lithuania Pavilion.

Perhaps you sampled Ruta, a Lithuanian chocolate brand more than 100 years old, or perhaps you sipped a craft beer made by Volfas Engelman, a Lithuanian brewery that started more than 170 years ago. Other delights on offer from this Baltic state included honey, jam, cereals, biscuits, and cakes.

But perhaps more important than the Lithuanian foods that are now arriving in Taiwan is the fact that this nation has a presence at the show at all. The pavilion is symbolic of the deepening friendship between Taiwan and Lithuania, two countries that share the common bond of dealing with the threat of authoritarian neighbors.

Lithuania knows all about the damage that this can cause. From the end of the Second World War until 1991, Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union, controlled by dictators from Russia whose socialist policies drove this vibrant trading nation into decades of poverty and hunger.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lithuanians embraced freedom and independence, and while they have joined the EU and NATO, they remain a fiercely proud and independent nation.

Given this history, it is little wonder that they understand Taiwan’s concerns over the growing threat from China. Lithuanians have been through what Taiwan might have to face in the event of a Chinese invasion.

Last month, Taiwan was allowed to open up a new embassy in Lithuania. Even better, rather than having to style this office as a "Taipei Representative Office," the Lithuanian authorities allowed it to be named the "Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania."

Needless to say, Beijing was not happy. It withdrew its ambassador from Lithuania when Taiwan's office was first announced and demanded Lithuania withdraw its ambassador too.

Earlier this month, Lithuania withdrew its entire diplomatic staff from Beijing, with sources saying this was a result of intimidation. China reportedly demanded that Lithuania downgrade the status of its office from embassy to charge d'affaires, which would mirror China’s decision to do the same with its office in Vilnius.

Meanwhile, China has also sought to punish Lithuania economically, including by removing the country from its customs list, in effect banning exports from Lithuania, for several days this month.

Lithuania has far more in common with Taiwan than China. This does rather beg the question of whether Lithuania will officially switch recognition from China to Taiwan.

Lithuania is a small nation, but it is an EU state, a member of NATO, and a proud freedom-loving democracy. It would be a significant coup for Taiwan to secure such an ally and also be symbolic of the direction the world is heading these days; with the Chinese Communist Party hoovering up dictatorships while democracies lean increasingly toward Taiwan.

If the U.S., NATO, and the rest of the free world made it clear they have Lithuania’s back, a switch in recognition may well happen.

It could just be the start of something too. A number of other EU countries, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland — all of whom share Lithuania’s dark experiences under communism — have recently shown increasing warmth toward Taiwan.

It would be an ideal Christmas present for Taiwan, and I, for one, would look forward to my cold Volfas Engelman beer even more than usual.