Beijing penalized Lithuania with a total closure of imports and threatened multinational companies doing business in China with exclusion from its market if they do not stop doing business with Lithuanian companies. This economic boycott is in retaliation for the opening of a Taiwanese representative office in Vilnius. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda stated that Lithuania will not capitulate to Beijing’s bullying and will continue to defend democracy.
On December 9, Mantas Adomenas, Lithuanian deputy foreign minister, revealed that China pressured multinational companies to cease business with Lithuanian suppliers. Adomenas explained that Beijing had reportedly “sent messages to multinationals warning them that if they use Lithuanian spare parts and supplies they will not be allowed to sell their products or obtain supplies on the Chinese market” and added that the threats led “some companies to cancel contracts with Lithuanian suppliers.”
The president of the Confederation of Lithuanian Industrialists, Vidmantas Janulevičius, confirmed the “direct Chinese pressure on a supplier to abandon Lithuanian-made products” and added that “the most painful thing was that these were European companies, because those kinds of companies are the main customers of Lithuanian companies.”
The Chinese boycott against Lithuania is escalating by threatening third parties, as Lithuanian companies only exported to the Chinese market around 300 million euros in 2020, which accounted for less than 1% of their total exports. However, many Lithuanian companies are suppliers to multinationals that rely on China for the export of products, import of inputs and outsourcing of production.
On December 1, Beijing erased Lithuania as a country of origin by preventing Lithuanian products from passing through Chinese customs. Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuanian foreign minister, denounced on December 3 that “without warning” Beijing had blocked all imports, for which Vilnius would ask the European Commission for help. On December 8, the European Commission issued a demure statement indicating that:
“We are communicating with the Chinese authorities to promptly clarify the situation” and that “if the information is confirmed” they would assess the compatibility of China’s action with its obligations under the World Trade Organization, but clarifying that “the EU remains committed to its One China Policy and recognizes the government of the People’s Republic of China as the only one.” Additionally, “the EU will seek cooperation and exchanges with Taiwan in areas of common interest.”
The bloc will not defend Lithuania from Chinese harassment. The large western European states, such as Germany and France, submissively accept Beijing’s bullying in order not to risk the business of European transnationals in China. And for now only four states of the still loosely cohesive and informal Central European bloc, Lithuania itself, together with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia, demand for Brussels to respond seriously to Beijing’s total boycott of Vilnius.
As Arnoldas Pranckevičius, Lithuanian deputy foreign minister warned at the Aspen Security Forum in Washington, Beijing attacks Lithuania seeking to set “a negative example, so that other countries will not follow our path” and added that “it is, therefore, a matter of principle how the Western community, the United States and the European Union react.”
China’s harassment of Lithuania is certainly intended to demonstrate Beijing’s economic punitive power, while allowing Chinese totalitarianism to gauge the responses of Brussels and Washington to such a thing. Beijing expects a submissive, purely rhetorical response from a cowed European Union and Washington’s relative indifference to China’s harassment of Lithuania.
As Gautam Chikermane, vice president of the Observer Research Foundation, India’s foreign policy think tank, points out, this would be Washington’s moment to “stand up” and confront Beijing again. I fear that the current administration does not see it that way and maintains a failed complacency toward Beijing’s expansionist totalitarianism that has only increased Chinese aggression on all fronts.