The Little Country That Stood Up To China

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks fluent English, yet there is one word he hasn’t heard often enough to master: “No.”

The Chinese Party leader presides over a global Communist colossus that has continued growing stronger as political leaders in the United States — but for a four-year interregnum between Democratic administrations — have essentially embraced managed decline. China wields its economic, diplomatic, demographic, and military power to bully and cajole anyone who gets in its way — apparently with unflagging success. Google censors search results at its command. YouTube blames the mass deletion of comments critical of the Chinese Communist Party on a mysterious “error.” Hollywood edits both forthcoming and decades-old blockbusters in obedience to Chinese tastes. Even a tech billionaire like the part-owner of the NBA Golden State Warriors, Chamath Palihapitiya, is so subservient to Beijing that he makes excuses for its persecution of the nation’s Uighur Muslims, saying the “very ugly truth” is that “nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uighurs.”

As a result, China could hardly believe its ears when the tiny, former Soviet nation of Lithuania defied its commands. In August, Lithuania allowed Taiwan to open a de facto Embassy in the capital city of Vilnius, and allowed it to be called the Taiwanese Representative Office. While several nations allow the island to open offices under the name of its capital city, Taipei, none had allowed Taiwan to use its own name because that would violate Beijing’s “One China” policy, which considers the independent, free-market nation part of the People’s Republic of China. Allowing Taiwan to open a diplomatic office shatters this illusion.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said the name of the office “had not been coordinated with me.” Still, when Beijing demanded that Lithuania change its ways, Lithuania refused. Because Lithuania supports “democracy and human rights as universal values,” its government “stands firm to its decision to welcome the opening of the Taiwanese representative office.”

The Chinese Communists immediately began ratcheting up the pressure. China tried to reclassify the Lithuanian representatives’ presence in Beijing in such a way as would strip them of diplomatic immunity, subjecting them to possible arrest and detention. “Essentially the Chinese are saying, ‘The security of your staff cannot be guaranteed until you, Lithuania, will bend your knees,’” said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London.

China exerted its economic might to try to squeeze Lithuania. “As of last week, more than 1,000 containers bound for Lithuania were stuck, unable to leave China, and another 300 sent from Lithuania were blocked from entering,” reported the Wall Street Journal on January 27. The CCP then tried to enlist other countries, including the United States, to stop purchasing products made in Lithuania, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The European Commission has also documented Chinese pressure tactics, including “a refusal to clear Lithuanian goods through customs, rejection of import applications from Lithuania, and pressuring EU companies operating out of other EU Member States to remove Lithuanian inputs from their supply chains when exporting to China.”

Chinese diplomats also tried to paint Lithuania’s action as immoral, with diplomat Zhao Lijian saying the CCP would like to “remind the EU to tell right from wrong, and stay wary of Lithuania’s attempts to take China-EU relations hostage” — an Orwellian turn of phrase, to be sure. Only Germany seems to have listened. Sources told Politico that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had officers “calling everyone who speaks German in the [European] Commission” because, in the words of Politico, Scholz “feared the EU was becoming too aggressive in its defense of Lithuania against Beijing’s economic coercion.” (Score two for Orwell.)

The pressure of a nation with 2.8 million citizens has put the Marxist nation of a billion people in the unusual position of not getting its way. “The Chinese Communist Party is so threatened by Lithuania’s recent diplomatic recognition of Taiwan that they have pressured companies and other countries to cut ties with Lithuania. In retaliation against Vilnius, Beijing has put holds on or rejected completely imports from Lithuania,” Amb. Andrew Bremberg, the president and CEO of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, told me. “Beijing has once again shown the world that when a country takes an action that does not align with the CCP’s interests, they will take extreme measures.”

Why would Lithuania risk provoking the lethal wrath of the world’s most populous despotic power? Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis says Lithuania feels a “sense of kinship” with Taiwan. Both are small nations formerly held under the thumb of repressive Communist nations.

Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1939, then by Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1944, then “liberated” by the USSR again in 1944. Lithuanian leaders declared they would re-establish their independent republic on March 11, 1990 — something intolerable even in a collapsing Soviet Union led by Mikhail Gorbachev. First, Moscow economically boycotted the nation. Then on January 11, 1991, Russian tanks rolled through the streets of Vilnius, shooting at unarmed civilians and plowing through crowds. Within three days, the Red Army killed 14 Lithuanians and wounded 700 more. The act of Communist aggression reminded many of China’s recent Tiananmen Square Massacre. Yet the nation prevailed and saw its independence recognized by the world. In less than two years, the Evil Empire that held it captive would come to an end.

“U.S. support of Lithuania gaining independence in 1991 was critical, including the fact that the U.S. never recognized the forcible incorporation of Lithuania into the Soviet Union and that the U.S. continued to support democratic institutions and a free market economy under President Reagan’s leadership,” Milda Mataciunaite-Boyce, director of fellowship programs at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, told me. “Similarly, Taiwan is looking to allies to stand up to the CCP’s authoritarian policies today. Lithuania is courageously stepping up to that plate and championing the vision of a free Taiwan.”

Lithuania has been working against Communist China’s interests for some time. Last May, they withdrew from China’s “17+1,” an economic alliance that has been described as “China’s gateway to Europe.” In September, the Lithuanian government warned its citizens to stop buying cell phones made in China, because Chinese cell phones could compromise their private data and censor messages supporting Tibet or Taiwan. “Our recommendation is to not buy new Chinese phones, and to get rid of those already purchased as fast as reasonably possible,” said Deputy Defense Minister Margiris Abukevicius. In between, it announced the coming of the Taiwanese office, which opened in November.

“It’s not surprising to see Lithuania defend the sovereignty of nations like Taiwan against threats from modern-day Communist aggressors. The tiny Baltic nation was the first of 15 Soviet-occupied nations to declare its independence from the Evil Empire. It has largely acted as a bulwark against the CCP and Cuba in the EU,” Gabriella Hoffman, columnist and a first-generation American of Lithuanian descent, told me. “More European nations should emulate Lithuania.”

Thankfully, as the dispute between China and Lithuania became intractable, more nations have rallied to Vilnius. Last Thursday, the European Commission opened a case against China inside the World Trade Organization, which the United States says it intends to join. Taiwan economically supported Lithuania, first by announcing a plan to invest $200 million in the nation (including a possible investment in microchips), then raising the value of the investment fund to $1 billion.

There remains more that we can do to support the democratic David against the encroaching Marxist Goliath. “The U.S. media must report on this and all instances of the CCP trying to coerce governments or companies, including many U.S. companies,” Ambassador Bremberg told me. Industries can refuse to bend to China’s whims, and nations can reorient the nature of their supply chains away from China and its sphere of influence.

More to the point, Lithuanian officials say, the free nations of the world can stand together against tyranny. “The biggest lesson out of Lithuania is that economic coercion does not necessarily mean that the country needs to step away from independent foreign-policy decisions,” said Gabrielius Landsbergis during a visit to Washington last November.

“Probably you’ll be threatened. You’ll be shouted at in the headlines in Chinese media, but nonetheless, you can withstand that,” he said. “I have to say that the only weakness of democracies is not being able to help each other.”

If other nations believe an ascendant Chinese Communist empire would shirk from pressuring them, they should think it out again. “Today it’s Lithuania,” said Vidmantas Janulevičius, president of the Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists, “but tomorrow it could be any country.”

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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