TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — American diplomats have reportedly recommended to Lithuanian officials that the name of the Taiwan representative office in Vilnius be changed to relieve pressure from China.
On Nov. 18, Taiwan officially opened its new representative office in Lithuania under the name "The Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania." The use of the word "Taiwanese" raised hackles in Beijing because it indicates that Taiwan is a sovereign nation.
This was a departure from the typical formulation for such offices which usually start with "Taipei" and are described as "Economic and Cultural Offices," rather than representative offices. China prefers the use of "Taipei" because it fits with its narrative that Taiwan is a province of the communist state and therefore only has the right to engage in non-diplomatic exchanges with other nations on a municipal level.
"Several people" aware of the matter were cited by Financial Times on Friday (Jan. 21) as saying that U.S. diplomats have suggested to Lithuanian officials that they change the name of Taiwan's office in the Baltic nation to "ease tensions" with China that arose after the mission opened. The diplomats reportedly believed that the use of "Taiwanese" in the name had "opened the door to Chinese coercion that risked undermining the expansion of ties with Taiwan."
However, a spokesperson for the National Security Council denied the Biden administration had suggested changing the name and was quoted by the newspaper as saying, “Anyone who suggests otherwise is not reflecting actual discussions between the US and Lithuania." The spokesperson then added, "We respect and support Lithuania and Taiwan’s efforts to enhance their ties and practical co-operation."
The Biden administration is seeking to help Taiwan expand its international standing while at the same time trying to avoid being accused by China of violating its "one China policy" in which the U.S. views the regime in Beijing as the sole seat of power over all of China. Such concern over displeasing China's leadership is evidenced by the fact that the U.S. has yet to respond to Taiwan's request submitted last year to make a similar name change to its de facto embassy in Washington.
The opening of the office in Vilnius was met with swift retaliation by China in the form of a downgrade in diplomatic ties by demoting the Baltic country's ambassador in Beijing to the position of charge d’affaires on Nov. 21. In early December, Beijing deleted Lithuania from its customs registry, before adding it back a few days later.
China then began pressuring international companies such as the German firm Continental AG, to stop doing business with Lithuanian firms. It then began to ban products imported from the EU that contained Lithuanian-made components, actions that a group of 41 EU lawmakers declared to be a violation of WTO trade rules and principles of the EU single market.
On Jan. 4, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda lamented that it was a "mistake" to allow Taiwan to use the word "Taiwanese" for the office's name and complained that he had not been consulted ahead of time. That evening, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Ausra Maldeikiene responded by firing off an angry tweet in which she chided "our pathetic President" for calling on Lithuania to "bow down to the Chinese Communist Party after they called us dogs."