Lithuanian agreement to Taiwan office likely backed by U.S.: scholar

07/20/2021 09:54 PM
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Foreign Minister Joseph We's announcement about the establishment of the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania (in Chinese). From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' YouTube channel
 

Taipei, July 20 (CNA) Lithuania's agreement to Taiwan opening a representative office in the country is likely backed by the United States, a local scholar said Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) announced in a virtual press conference that Taiwan is opening a representative office in Lithuania to expand its relations with the Baltic state and other Central European countries.

The office, which will be named "The Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania," will be the nation's first representative office in Europe bearing the name "Taiwan," according to Wu.

The name Taiwan uses for its foreign missions in countries with which it does not have diplomatic relations is usually "Taipei Economic and Cultural Office," "Taipei Representative Office," or "Taipei Trade and Investment Office," likely due to host countries' wanting to avoid sovereignty implications.

Lee Jyun-yi (李俊毅), an associate research fellow at the government-funded Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), told CNA that the announcement is a major diplomatic breakthrough for Taiwan at a challenging time.

Lee noted that immediately after Wu's announcement, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the de facto U.S embassy in the country in the absence of official diplomatic ties, issued a statement, showing that the U.S. supports the decision.

According to Lee, White House coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell earlier this month reiterated the U.S. stance that it does not support Taiwan independence, while describing Taiwan-U.S. relations as a "dangerous balance" between advocating for Taiwan's role on the global stage and avoiding a military confrontation with China.

AIT's latest statement could suggest that the U.S. is trying to change the so-called "dangerous balance" in small steps to test China's bottom line, Lee said.

Meanwhile, Lee said the upcoming opening of the office is likely to put tremendous pressure on Lithuania as it still maintains an official diplomatic relationship with China which considers Taiwan to be part of its territory.

All the countries in Europe are definitely watching closely to see how Lithuania responds to Beijing's pressure, Lee added.

Commenting on the same issue, Marc Cheng (鄭家慶), executive director of the Taipei-based European Union Centre in Taiwan (EUTW), told CNA that it is not a surprise Taiwan will soon open an office in Lithuania given the fact that the relations between the two has warmed up significantly in recent years.

Lithuania first dropped out of a decade-old initiative called "17+1," a grouping of Central and Eastern European countries created by China, in May, before more than half of Lithuania's parliamentarians sent a joint letter to the World Health Organization supporting Taiwan's bid to participate in the global health body.

Lithuania further pledged to soon open an office in Taiwan before it promised to donate 20,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to the country, in response to Taiwan's donation of 100,000 medical grade face masks to Lithuania last year, Cheng said.

Explaining the reason behind Lithuania's pledge to open an office in Taiwan, Cheng said that like most other Central and Eastern European countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union, Lithuania has always cherished its hard-earned democracy, and therefore tends to sympathize with Taiwan.

Like Lithuania, more and more Central and Eastern European countries are also becoming cautious in their dealing with China after several years of bilateral engagement, as China faces difficulties keeping promised investments in their respective countries, according to Lee.

Lithuania is also considering working with Taiwan's world leading semiconductor industry.

Opening a representative office in Taiwan which is located in a central position in the Asia Pacific region is also a good strategy for the Baltic country to expand its reach into the region, he added.

Lee and Cheng also agreed that other European countries are now watching to see the seniority of the officials Lithuania sends to Taiwan to head up its representative office.

Other countries will learn from the Lithuania example when it comes to drafting their Taiwan policies in the future, he added.

(By Chung Yu-chen and Joseph Yeh)

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