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Estonia ready to let Taiwan open Tallinn office, despite China warnings

FILE - A general view of the old town of Tallinn, Estonia, is seen in this April 10, 2004 picture.
FILE - A general view of the old town of Tallinn, Estonia, is seen in this April 10, 2004 picture. Copyright TIMUR NESAMETDINOV/AP2004
Copyright TIMUR NESAMETDINOV/AP2004
By Joshua Askew
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"We have declared we consider China a partner, a competitor and a rival," the Estonian foreign minister told Euronews.

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Estonia has doubled down on letting the Taiwan government open a representative office in the capital Tallinn, despite warnings from China to scrap the plan. 

"As many other European Union countries, Estonia is ready to accept the creation of Taipei’s non-diplomatic economic or cultural representations" in Tallinn, Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna said in a statement sent to Euronews. 

Earlier this week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry increased diplomatic pressure on the Baltic state, with spokesperson Wang Wenbin urging "the Estonian side to abide by its solemn commitment to the one-China principle". 

Wenbin called on Tallinn to "refrain from allowing Taiwan to set up any official organisation, and effectively safeguard the political basis of bilateral relations.”

Beijing is ultra-sensitive to any moves that give recognition to the self-governing island as a sovereign country. It claims Taiwan as its own, under the one-China policy. 

A majority of people in Taiwan are against unifying with China, according to a 2022 survey by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation.

"Estonia does not recognise Taiwan as a state. As part of the ‘One China Policy’, we are not developing political relations with Taiwan," said the Estonian foreign minister.

"At the same time, we consider it important to boost relations in domains such as the economy, education, culture, relations between NGOs, and other similar fields.

"We also support Taiwan’s participation in international life in areas of global importance, such as the fight against pandemics and Taiwan’s attendance at the World Health Assembly," he added. 

"Developing relations of this kind is not in conflict with the ‘One China policy."

Claiming it was part of its new values-led foreign policy, in which the country would stand up for freedom and democracy around the world, Lithuania allowed Taiwan to open a de facto embassy in Vilnius, its capital, in 2021. 

Beijing's reaction was fierce. Speaking to Euronews in October, political scientist Šarūnas Liekis said the move caused "huge economic damage" to Lithuania, with China banning Lithuanian imports and withdrawing its ambassador.  

Though Lithuania's government has stood firm, Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said on Wednesday the country adheres to the one-China policy - perhaps signalling a softening of its Taiwan policy. 

In the statement sent to Euronews, Estonia insisted its plans to allow Taiwan to open a representative office are in line with EU policy. 

"In our relations with China, our aim is a unified policy of the European Union and the development of broad cooperation with like-minded partners, mainly our transatlantic allies," Foreign Minister Tsahkna said. "The more unified we are in our policy towards China, the better for all democracies.

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"As the European Union, we have declared we consider China a partner, a competitor and a rival. All these aspects must be taken into consideration in our policy towards China," he continued. 

Following the fallout from Vilinus' spat with Beijing, the EU sped up finalising its anti-coercion instrument, a tool to counter countries bullying EU members.

"We consider a constructive relationship with Beijing important, including for addressing various global and regional challenges, and for resolving differences in a peaceful way. For example, it is important that China does not support Russia’s aggression and follows the principles of the rules-based world order. We are consistently emphasising this in our communication," said Tsahkna, whose country is a staunch supporter of Ukraine as it battles the Russian invasion. 

"Obviously, we also consider it crucial to protect our fundamental values, including democracy and human rights. We underline this to the representatives of China at every meeting," he added.

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