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China downgrades relations with Lithuania over Taiwan 'embassy' spat

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By AP
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 Eric Huang, newly appointed director to the representative office, third from right, poses with other staffers outside the Taiwan Representative Office in Vilinius, Lithuania
Eric Huang, newly appointed director to the representative office, third from right, poses with other staffers outside the Taiwan Representative Office in Vilinius, Lithuania   -   Copyright  AP/Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs

China has reduced the level of its diplomatic relations with Lithuania over its newly enhanced relationship with Taiwan.

Relations between Beijing and Vilnius are now below ambassador level after the Baltic nation allowed Taiwan to open a representative office.

China considers the self-governingisland democracy as part of its territory and says it has no right to conduct foreign affairs.

Lithuania's ambassador was earlier expelled, while China also withdrew its own ambassador from Lithuania.

The foreign ministry said relations would be downgraded to the level of charge d’affaires, an embassy’s No. 2 official.

Lithuania’s move reflects growing interest among governments in expanding ties with Taiwan, a major trader and centre for high-tech industry, at a time when Beijing has irritated its neighbours and Western governments with an increasingly assertive foreign and military policy.

Taiwan and the mainland have been ruled separately since 1949 following a civil war.

The foreign ministry accused Lithuania of “undermining Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity” and called on the Lithuanian government to “correct the mistakes immediately.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing that the EU member state should not “underestimate the Chinese people’s strong resolve, will and capability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Beijing refuses to have official relations with governments that recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country. It has persuaded all but 15 countries, most of them small and poor in Africa and Latin America, to switch recognition to the mainland.

Many governments, including the United States and Japan, have official diplomatic ties with Beijing while maintaining extensive commercial ties with Taiwan. Many maintain relations with the island’s democratically elected government through trade offices that serve as informal embassies.

Lithuania broke with diplomatic custom by agreeing that the Taiwanese office in Vilnius would bear the name Taiwan instead of Chinese Taipei, a term used by other countries to avoid offending Beijing.

Lithuania said earlier it plans to open its own representative office in Taiwan and has expressed regret over China's decision to downgrade relations.

The country's foreign ministry said in a statement that Lithuania respected Beijing’s policy toward Taiwan, but also has the right to expand its ties with this island.

Lithuania also received support from visiting Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.