МОСКВА, 10 декабря 2021, Институт РУССТРАТ.
The trade and diplomatic conflict between China and Lithuania, which entered an acute phase after the opening of the «Taiwan representative office» in Vilnius and the retaliatory exclusion of Lithuanian exporters from the customs system of China, at first glance, plays into the hands of the United States and is aimed at building a new geopolitical alliance between Washington and Brussels on a tough anti-Chinese basis. At the political level, this alliance can be formed in a few days within the framework of the so-called «Summit of Democracies», at which there was no place for either China or Russia.
Another thing is that the European Union today is not interested in a sharp destabilisation of relations with Beijing, especially their economic component, and in its support for Vilnius, most likely, it will limit itself to just routine statements. In turn, China, although it demonstratively punished Lithuania, is unlikely to definitively abandon even such a small market. As well as the markets of the other two Baltic countries, which seem ready to join the «Taiwanese» demarche of Vilnius.
As for Lithuania itself, which, at the behest of Washington, is dragging the EU into a conflict with China, the fate of this Baltic limitrophe country is not interesting to anyone at all. Including its own leadership, which counts on generous compensation for its anti-Chinese position, but in fact only serves other people’s interests.
Therefore, Lithuania is strategically doomed to defeat: angered by China, abandoned by America and deprived of the trust of Europeans, it will sooner or later return to the orbit of Russian influence.
The weak link of the EU?
A new round of the conflict between China and Lithuania, connected with the opening of the first «Taiwan representative office» in the EU in Vilnius on November 18, continued the three-year confrontation between these states bordering Russia. It began almost immediately after the visit to the Celestial Empire in November 2018 by the then President of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė, but the reason was not the failure of the trip at all, but the trade war between the United States and China that broke out in the same year.
Washington immediately made it clear to its Baltic satellite that it would decide for itself with whom Vilnius would be friends and with whom it would not. Apparently, the Americans had already chosen Lithuania as the weak link of the European Union through which any anti-Chinese initiatives could be thrown in.
So, in February 2019, the Lithuanian State Security Department (VSD) for the first time designated China as a threat, accusing its intelligence of carrying out espionage and recruiting Lithuanian citizens. At the same time, Vilnius joined Washington’s campaign against Huawei and its equipment for new 5G networks. And in July of the same year, the new Lithuanian president Gitanas Nausėda opposed Chinese investments in the deepening of the port in Klaipeda.
After the right-wing coalition of the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats and the Union of Liberals came to power in Lithuania in the autumn of 2020, the anti-Chinese course of Vilnius became even more noticeable. Already this year, it withdrew from the mechanism of cooperation between China and the Central and Eastern European states «17 +1» and by the hands of the Seimas adopted a resolution insulting to Beijing in support of the «oppressed» Uighurs in Xinjiang. On July 20, 2021, the Foreign Ministry of the Baltic country announced a plan to open a «Taiwanese representative office in Lithuania», which caused a real diplomatic scandal.
The fact is that Beijing, considering Taiwan as a temporarily fallen part of a single China, has an extremely negative attitude to any attempts by the international community to recognise the state sovereignty of this island. So far, only 14 UN member states at the level of Honduras, Eswatini and Tuvalu have dared to take such a step. Neither the United States nor the European Union recognises the «other China», valuing still mutually beneficial trade and economic relations with the «world factory».
Therefore, the decision of Vilnius, despite all the warnings of Beijing, to open a «Taiwan representative office», also looks like the opening of an Overton window. Very soon, this experience may spread to other countries of the Old World, primarily Latvia and Estonia. In any case, the idea of «repeating the feat of the Lithuanian brothers» is already being discussed in full in two other Baltic countries, and their parliamentarians have just paid a visit to Taipei.
It is obvious that in all three cases we are not talking about an independent decision of these limitrophic countries, but about fulfilling the will of Washington. The Joe Biden administration continues the anti-Chinese course of the previous US President Donald Trump, but, unlike him, relies on building strong coalitions with other strong players. And if in military-political terms this is being implemented, in particular, in the creation of the AUKUS alliance with Great Britain and Australia, then in the trade and economic sphere the US urgently needs the support of the European Union.
The demarche of Vilnius, which has already turned to Brussels for help in the heated trade dispute with Beijing, is designed to provide this support.
From satellites to provocateurs
In the Russian media sphere, it is customary to present the Chinese reaction to the «Taiwanese» demarche of Vilnius — from the recall of the ambassador, the cancellation of visas and the downgrading of the status of the embassy of the Celestial Empire in this country to the informal deletion of Lithuanian exporters from the customs declaration system of China — almost as a knockout blow to the unreasonable Lithuanians: they say, «Beijing took and canceled Lithuania”, etc.
Indeed, in the long-term, Lithuania, and with it Latvia and Estonia, may completely lose access to the Chinese market as a punishment, and their ports — the lion’s share of trade, including from third countries. However, the same Belaruskali, in the light of new Western sanctions, will somehow have to reorient itself from Klaipeda to Russian ports.
However, it should be understood that the value of all goods sold in 2020 by the same Lithuania to China amounted to only about €300 million — this is no more than 1% of its total exports. That is, the Chinese restriction hits Lithuanian producers very weakly.
Another thing is that Beijing is also able to block the oncoming flow of goods to Lithuania (€1.2 billion in 2020). And also to finally reorient its transport corridors within the framework of the New Silk Road, without stopping at the measures already taken. And yet we must remember that the main priority of China for many years has been to increase export efforts and diversify their directions, so China is unlikely to want to abandon even small markets and secondary routes just like that.
In turn, Vilnius is now counting on support from two centres of power at once — the United States and the European Union. The former, obviously, will soon try to strengthen the Baltic bridgehead as part of Russia’s military deterrence. In addition, the US can provide the Lithuanian government with a new generous compensation in the form of a guarantee of direct loans worth hundreds of millions of dollars — de facto, however, helping not so much Vilnius as their own companies.
And what about the EU? Most likely, Brussels will support Vilnius at the level of diplomatic shouts and will willingly join Washington in the framework of the «Summit of Democracies». However, the key members of the European Union, primarily Germany and France, are clearly not ready to get involved in a full-scale anti-Chinese alliance of the United States, especially in the military and economic spheres, and at the same time perfectly understand the role of Lithuania in the «Taiwanese» spectacle.
And it’s not just that in 2020, for the first time, China overtook the United States in terms of trade turnover with the European Union. It’s also the fact that the Old World will not extract any geopolitical benefits from the enmity with the Middle Kingdom. Especially after the breakaway of Great Britain and against the backdrop of the outrages of Washington, because of which Paris has just lost a multibillion-dollar deal to build submarines for Australia.
Everything suggests that despite the American «compensation» and Beijing’s unwillingness to «squeeze» Vilnius, the latter will be the main loser in this story. And although in the near future Lithuanian politicians will have things «in chocolate», strategically this Baltic country will lose much more.
In just a few moves, Vilnius managed to find an enemy in the face of Beijing and substitute Europe, and in relations with Washington — to move from the rank of satellites to the even less honourable category of «provocateurs». The Americans throw such people to the mercy of fate as soon as they see fit. After that, Lithuania will naturally return to the orbit of influence of the only strong neighbour who will still care about it — Russia.