The head of the newly opened Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania has said there is a lot of support for Taiwan from the Baltic states in an interview with ERR.
The opening of the office - a defacto embassy - has caused relations between Lithuania and China to plummet as China does not recognize Taiwan as an independent state and believes it should act in step with Beijing. In other countries, missions have been named after the capital Taipei.
In retaliation, China downgraded its diplomatic mission in Vilnius and Lithuanian and EU companies have recently reported unexpected difficulties in doing business in the country.
Additionally, Lithuanian diplomats quickly left Beijing last week fearing their diplomatic immunity was being withdrawn. Estonia called the pressure on Lithuania "unacceptable".
"They have a very clear goal to convince countries like Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania not to do something similar," Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabrielius Landsbergis told ERR.
On Wednesday, Beijing's mouthpiece the "Global Times" newspaper threatened to sweep Lithuania into the "garbage bin of history".
ERR's correspondent Epp Ehand visited the Taiwanese office in Vilnius and spoke with Eric Huang, head of the Taiwanese Representation, about what the country hopes to achieve in Lithuania, China's long-term plans and Taiwan's relations with the Baltic states.
ERR: You have recently opened a representation in Vilnius, what do you want to achieve here in Lithuania?
Huang: Well, first of all, I think investment and trade are very important to strengthen the relationship as the foundation of deepening our bilateral relationship. I think also cultural and education exchanges.
In general, we will look forward to the strengthening and enhancement of the bilateral relationship in a comprehensive way.
You opened your representation under the name Taiwan and Lithuania has supported you in doing that, what does it mean to you?
Lithuania allows us to open under the name "Taiwanese" which can both be a noun and an adjective. So it can cover the shared value of democracy and freedom.
Taiwanese democracy, Taiwanese culture, Taiwanese economy, development, technology - so we think this is a fantastic word that can represent different dimensions of Taiwan, including the Taiwanese people.
I think the most important thing for us is, by having this name, it will enable us to have easier communication with our friends and shows that we represent Taiwan. We are not only representing the capital of Taiwan, which is Taipei. So I think it is also for the purpose of easier communication and it is also very helpful for our friends to know who they are actually dealing with.
This action has provoked revenge from China for Lithuania, how do you view it?
Of course, we think that China will always block any new friendships or relations that Taiwan has with other countries.
We also share the pressure of Lithuania's business and companies so my government has decided to do whatever we can do to offer assistance. We have mobilized resources, many of the aspects could not clearly name it because we are still doing it but I can assure our Lithuanian friends that we are sincere about this help.
We also condemn the pressure from China, those economic sanctions are undeclared and illegal in terms of international laws. China is a member of the World Trade Organization, it should follow the global rules of trade and investment. But using undeclared economic sanctions as coercion, I think that will also increase the danger of crisis or the breakdown of some for the international rules of order in the economic sphere.
So, I think this is a truly unfortunate development but the world should stand with Lithuania because Lithuania has done nothing wrong. But China, they are applying pressure, they are trying to use those means [undeclared sanctions] and illegal measures against Lithuanian businesses.
I think this warrants the attention of the whole world and we should do something together to defend the rule of law in terms of economic and international trade and investment.
We can see in the news that tensions are rising between Taiwan and China and it seems quite frightening sometimes. How secure does your country feel?
We have a very strong resolve and determination in defending ourselves. This year, according to initial statistics, there were more than 900 [airspace] incursions of Chinese fighter jets or their military aircraft into the air defense identification zone. Of course, we are closely monitoring their aggressive behaviors and have so far mobilized efficiently our military assets and deployed our airplanes to monitor and control the strait.
I think because we have military defense capabilities, especially in asymmetric military defense capabilities, I think we feel confident that we can protect ourselves and also safeguard the security in the region.
How much support do you feel from other countries in the international community? Or is everybody afraid due to the threats from China?
I think international support has been very strong, for example, with this increasing threat from China. We can see this year there has been a G7 meeting and there have been different dialogues between the US and Korea, Japan, Australia. I think you can clearly see the tendency and also especially by the U.S. and the European Union.
I think countries are expressing concern about regional security and obviously, we do not send our jets to the aircraft identification zone so the world knows what happens and that China is trying to do something to threaten regional stability.
We have also not only seen very positive responses not only from the diplomatic field but also we witness increasing freedom of navigation operations in the region and even some joint military exercises between the main western military forces.
So, I think overall, I can say that we have received very positive responses from the around world in support of Taiwan's democracy, security and there is very close attention on potential military aggression and the current aggression behavior from China.
What is China's long-term plan by intimidating Taiwan? We have seen this aggression towards Taiwan, towards Hong Kong, sometimes also here in Europe where they try to protect their interests.
We understand that for the world to keep a stabilized environment in the Asia-Pacific that Taiwan is a key player and also a very strategic location. So it is obvious if China wants to expand its influence in the Asia-Pacific then Taiwan will be the first target.
So, we are not only defending ourselves, but we are also defending the security and stability in the region.
This is something that we perceive in China's long-term plan and of course, they are also using the issue of Taiwan as a way to stabilize domestic opinion in their own society. They are creating nationalism, an atmosphere in order to divert the dissatisfaction of their people to different areas.
China's general ambition is to stabilize the ruling [CCP] party and also try to expand into the Asia-Pacific region using their military force or their economic clout.
In the Baltic states, we are very lucky that we have our independence. As small countries, they have a lot of support for Taiwan or Hong Kong. Can you feel it here yourself?
Yes, of course.
Your people in 1989, the three Baltic counties, you formed a human chain [the Baltic Way from Tallinn to Vilnius] that inspired Taiwan as well in 2004 when we were facing military aggression. We formed a human chain around the island.
So we actually understand the feeling of the Baltic states and I also believe the Baltic states understand the threat that we are facing from China. You are also facing a very serious and real threat from your neighbor and in the same way we face a threat directly from our neighbor as well.
All of our countries are democratic countries so this is generally the background of the shared feeling and friendship between the peoples of the Baltic states and Taiwan.
When I arrived in the Baltic states early this year, at the end of January during the pandemic, initially I did not have the chance to communicate with them face to face, but I already felt the long-term fellowship and the passion that they have for promoting the relationship between Taiwan and the Baltic states.
What touched me most was when we were implementing our project to establish a new mission here in Lithuania there were many old friends of Taiwan who came to help me, help Taiwan, in a very tangible way. But many of them joined demonstrations in the 1990s or even earlier in 1989 and they expressed to me, that by helping Taiwan they feel like they are helping themselves and they feel young again. I think the feeling to pursue democracy and freedom, they are very deep-rooted in their hearts and they are always willing to help Taiwan because now we are also facing real danger.
Additionally, I think people think that by helping Taiwan it is helping the Baltic states as well because the potential collaborations between authoritarian states could, maybe, likely, trigger some incidents and not only threaten the peace and stability in the east but also in the west.
I think our friends also feel the urgency to strengthen the cooperation between the Baltic states and Taiwan because, geographically, we are very far but in terms of global security we are very closely linked.
Will you look to open a representation in Estonia as well?
We are looking forward to such opportunities but at the moment we do not have a plan. But we are looking for every possibility to strengthen our cooperation with the Baltic states.
Editor: Helen Wright