It all started last year, when Lithuania poked Beijing in the eye — twice in the space of a few months.
First, it withdrew from the so-called “17+1” group, a forum in which 17 eastern and central European countries engage with China, before encouraging others to do the same. Given China’s numerous business interests in the region, most notably the so-called Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) focused on infrastructure projects, any kind of European pushback is unwelcome in Beijing.
Then in November, Lithuania became the first country in Europe to allow self-ruled Taiwan to open a de facto embassy under the name “Taiwan.” Other such offices in Europe and the United States use the name Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, to avoid references that would imply the island’s independence from China. Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said the opening of the Taiwanese Representative Office in Vilnius would “charter a new and promising course for bilateral relations between Taiwan and Lithuania.”
The move enraged Beijing, which saw it as an affront to its “One China” principle that insists Taiwan is part of China, rather than an independent sovereign territory, despite the two sides having been governed separately for over seven decades after a civil war. As a rule, those who want a relationship with China must recognize the policy diplomatically.