China triggers major dispute in Europe in fury at Taiwan – row explodes as US lashes out

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Additionally, Beijing is recalling its own envoy from Vilnius in a stark illustration of the strength of feeling on the issue. Meanwhile the United States has weighed to voice its support, accusing China of “coercive behaviour”.

China sees democratically governed Taiwan to part of its territory in accordance with the “one China”, and is regularly angered by any moves which suggest otherwise.

Taiwan announced its new mission last month, saying it would be called the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania.

The move marks the first time the island’s name has been used for one of its offices in Europe – normally only “Taipei” is used.

For example, Taiwan took part in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics under the name of “Chinese Taipei”.

China’s Foreign Ministry insisted Lithuania’s permission for the office to open under the name of Taiwan was done “in disregard of China’s repeated representations and articulation of potential consequences”, and had severely undermined China’s sovereignty.

A statement explained: “The Chinese government expresses its categorical opposition to this move.

“China has decided to recall its ambassador to Lithuania and demanded the Lithuanian Government recall its ambassador to China.

“We urge the Lithuanian side to immediately rectify its wrong decision, take concrete measures to undo the damage, and not to move further down the wrong path.

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“China solemnly declares to the world that there is only one China in the world, and the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China.”

Earlier this year, Lithuania said it planned to open its own representative office in Taiwan, and has donated 20,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to the island.

Just 15 countries have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan – but many others have de facto embassies which are often termed trade offices, which is the EU.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis described China’s decision as “disappointing”.

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He added: “We are considering our next moves.

“Obviously we got the message but we stated our own message as well, that Lithuania will continue with its policy because it is not only Lithuania’s policy we are pursuing, it is also the policy of many European countries.”

In May, Lithuania also quit China’s “17+1” platform aimed at engaging with Central and Eastern European countries.

In an email to Politico, Mr Landsbergis said: “There is no such thing as 17+1 anymore, as for practical purposes Lithuania is out.

“From our perspective, it is high time for the EU to move from a dividing 16+1 format to a more uniting and therefore much more efficient 27+1.

“The EU is strongest when all 27 member states act together along with EU institutions.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price told a regular news briefing the United States supported European partners and allies in developing relations with Taiwan and resisting what he terms China’s “coercive behaviour”.

He added: “We do stand in solidarity with our NATO ally Lithuania and we condemn the PRC’s recent retaliatory actions.”

China, which has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary, has ramped up pressure on countries not to engage with Taiwan.

In February, the South American country of Guyana revoked a deal for Taiwan to open a representative office there only a day after Taipei had announced it.

Taiwan blamed Chinese “bullying” for the decision.

Tensions also spiked with the US last year after visits by several high-ranking Government officials, including former Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Keith Krach, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment.

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