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Lithuanian diplomats leave China as relations sour over Taiwan

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By Reuters

<div> <p>By Yew Lun Tian and Andrius Sytas</p> <p><span class="caps">BEIJING</span>/VILNIUS -Lithuania’s diplomatic delegation to China left the country on Wednesday in a hastily arranged departure, diplomatic sources said, as relations soured further over Taiwan, which opened a de facto embassy in Vilnius last month.</p> <p>Beijing, which has stepped up pressure on countries to sever relations with the island, downgraded diplomatic ties with Lithuania in November after Taiwan’s representative office in the Baltic state’s capital opened.</p> <p>Lithuanian authorities said on Wednesday they had summoned their top diplomat back from China for “consultations” and that the embassy would operate remotely for the time being.</p> <p>A diplomatic source told Reuters a group of 19 people comprising embassy personnel and dependents left Beijing en route to Paris. Another diplomatic source familiar with the situation called their departure a response to “intimidation”.</p> <p>China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Like most countries, Lithuania has formal relations with China and not self-ruled and democratically governed Taiwan, which Beijing views as its territory.</p> <p>Lithuania’s ruling coalition agreed in November 2020 to support what it described as “those fighting for freedom” in Taiwan, putting its relations with China at risk. </p> <p>China last month responded to the opening of the Taiwan office by downgrading Lithuania’s representation in Beijing from an embassy to a charge d’affaires office..</p> <p>On Wednesday the building, in a gated Beijing compound, appeared empty. No one answered a knock on the door or telephone call. A photograph taken a day earlier showed two bouquets of flowers at the front door.</p> <p>The embassy had been led by Audra Ciapiene, charge d’affaires ad interim, who was among those who left the Chinese capital on Wednesday, </p> <p>Lithuania had recalled its ambassador in September, several weeks after China demanded the envoy’s withdrawal and said it was recalling its envoy to Vilnius.</p> <p>The United States has spoken out in support of Lithuania during its row with China, adding to tensions between Washington and Beijing.</p> <p>Lithuania’s foreign ministry said it is ready to continue a dialogue with China and restore the functions of the embassy once a mutually beneficial agreement has been reached.</p> </div>