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Jan 15, 2022
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Help: Lithuania foolishly declared a trade war on China, and now asks for help from Europe

Help: Lithuania foolishly declared a trade war on China, and now asks for help from Europe

Photo: Sergey Savostyanov / TASS

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Gabrielius Landsbergis urged the European Union to fight back against China against the background of the economic conflict between the parties.

Recall that the conflict began after Vilnius opened an official representative office of Taiwan, while in most countries of the world there are representative offices of Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, which helps to avoid conflicts with China. In response, Beijing lowered the level of diplomatic relations with Lithuania to the level of chargé d’affaires.

But the matter was not limited to this – sanctions were used. True, unannounced – just the customs authorities of the Middle Kingdom stopped letting Lithuanian goods and goods with Lithuanian components into the country, as well as accepting applications for imports from Lithuania.

However, some loophole was found – the goods went through the ports of neighboring countries. As the head of the Klaipeda container terminal stated at the end of last year Vaidotas Shileyka, Lithuanian companies are forced to send their goods to China through the ports of other states.

“There are also indications that cargo importers are also trying to look for alternative ports. For imports from China to Lithuania, they indicate the Latvian Riga as the last port of unloading,” he explained.

It is not entirely clear whether people in Beijing know about this or simply turn a blind eye. In any case, this is a blow to the Lithuanian ports. Earlier, Shileyka complained that the loss of cargo from Belarus and China could lead to a decrease in the cargo turnover of the Klaipeda port by 40%.

And it is certainly not clear what the Lithuanians now expect from the EU.

“Now we need a very clear answer from Europe. Europe should state that this is not only about the market of one specific country. This is a test of the strength of the entire rules-based global trading system. Europe must fight back,” Landsbergis said.

However, Europe, it seems, has already made it clear that it is not going to get involved in a confrontation with China because of the ambitions of Vilnius (or Washington). At least at the business level. In December, we already reported that the German-Baltic Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Landsbergis with a warning that the conflict between Lithuania and China could lead to the closure of German factories in the Baltic republic.

“About a year ago, after coming to power, the Lithuanian conservatives began to pursue an anti-Chinese policy and did not consult with anyone,” recalls expert of the analytical portal Rubaltic.ru Alexey Ilyashevich.

— For example, when Lithuania withdrew from the 17+1 initiative, there were no consultations with allies or EU agencies. No one was interested in the opinion of Brussels when a representative office of Taiwan (and not Taipei, as is customary in international practice) was opened in Vilnius. But as soon as the “response” arrives, Lithuania immediately ran to the “elder brothers” for help.

At the same time, the Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte shortly before the New Year, she stated the following: “Lithuania is an independent state, no one can impose a foreign policy on it, even the European Union.” That is, it is still not going to consult with the EU, although it expects decisive support from it in the conflict with China. Complete lack of logic.

“SP”: – And what, will Europe help? Does she need it? Moreover, to substitute before China …

— An exhaustive answer to your question was given by the European Commissioner for the Environment and Oceans Virginijus Sinkevičius. He said that, firstly, “the subject of negotiations is currently missing”, since “many means of pressure are not on the table, but under the table.” China has not imposed any official sanctions against Lithuania, but there is no trial. Secondly, even if the EU registers the presence of informal sanctions and wants to introduce countermeasures, discussion of this issue will take at least six months.

Just after that, Simonyte blurted out that even the European Union cannot impose a foreign policy on Lithuania. What does it say? I believe that Lithuanian politicians have already been made clear: they need to somehow make peace with Beijing, the EU does not want to get involved in this conflict.

“SP”: – And what can the Europeans actually do, even if they want to? How can they help?

— I think the European Union has serious levers of pressure on China. Like China to the European Union. There may be some restrictions in the field of foreign trade, all kinds of bans on exports and imports. But, I repeat, few people want to take such radical steps because of the Lithuanian adventurers.

“SP”: – In Lithuania, they said earlier that imports and exports went through the ports of neighboring countries. That is, is it possible to somehow solve the problem of “little bloodshed” (to hell with them, with ports, the main thing is to save trade itself)? Does China not understand this? Or will he close his eyes? Is he ready to impose sanctions only on goods that came from Lithuania, and not produced in it?

– So far, it is difficult to say what China is trying to achieve and what specific methods it uses.

If you believe the statements of the Lithuanian side, then so far the PRC is targeting industrial goods. This is about two thirds of the total Chinese exports to Lithuania (700-800 million euros annually). On the other hand, China is trying to stop importing end products that contain Lithuanian-made parts. Regarding ports, the situation is not completely clear. But it is possible that such a loophole exists.

“SP”: – By the way, about the ports. Lithuania previously tried to send its agricultural products, which was blocked by Russia, to China through Klaipeda. How much will she lose by stopping this transit? They also decided to finally break with Belaruskali. What does this mean for ports? How many have already been buried, on the other hand …

– A little, actually. All Lithuanian exports to China are 300 million euros per year. Government officials clung to this figure when they insisted that there was no need to be afraid of the Chinese. Say, what will they do to us if we do not trade much? But already now the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Mantas Adomenas admits that the government did not calculate all the risks.

With Belaruskali, the situation really smacks of a transit crisis. Every fourth ton of cargo in Klaipeda is Belarusian fertilizers. If transportation really stops on February 1, the Lithuanian Railways and the port will lose their main breadwinner at the same time. And then there will be billions (!) lawsuits from Belaruskali and from the Klaipeda bulk cargo terminal. It is possible that the affected importers of Belarusian products will join – China is also among them. I don’t know how Lithuania is going to fight back: it has no real grounds for early termination of the contract between LZhD and Belaruskali.

“SP”: – In your opinion, it is fundamental for Beijing to “put pressure” on Lithuania? Up to what limit? How seriously can they harm its economy?

– It is hard to say. In international practice, in my opinion, there has never been such a thing that the Celestial Empire has tried to punish a single EU member state. You can call it a kind of experiment. The Chinese, I think, are interested in trying it themselves, testing their strength, evaluating the reaction of the European Union. The main thing here is not a specific result in the form of a “subsidence” of the Lithuanian GDP by a few percent, for example. The main thing is to show the rest of the Western countries that it is better not to anger the Chinese Dragon.

“Lithuania is accustomed to believing that the EU and NATO will always shield them,” says Associate Professor of the Faculty of International Relations, Political Science and Foreign Regional Studies of the Russian State Humanitarian University Vadim Trukhachev.

– And when this does not happen, or happens to the wrong extent, the Lithuanians take an offended look and start hysterical.

“SP”: – By the way, why did they even need to get into this story with Taiwan? Did the Americans ask, or did the Lithuanians themselves decide to take the initiative in the hope of the favor of the owner?

– Both options are possible. Lithuania does not take a single step across the USA. They thought that China could be bullied like Russia – they say, they won’t notice much there. But they miscalculated.

“SP”: – And what do they now want from the Europeans? Those have already made it clear that they are not fools to conflict with China German business has already begun to wind down. How can Europe help them in general? Substitute your head under Chinese sanctions in solidarity?

– Nothing can help. Is that a symbolic expression of concern about China’s policy. Lithuania should not hope for more. The European Union will not mortally quarrel with the Celestial Empire because of it.

I think it will mostly be limited to verbal concern. A couple of countries (primarily the Czech Republic) can expel one Chinese diplomat. Remove the Chinese from some project. But at the EU level there can only be symbolic measures.

“SP”: – Does China need to spend time on these “moses”?

“It is fundamental to China not to give up slack. And Lithuania itself gave him the opportunity to demonstratively flog himself.

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