Vilnius: No benefits in Beijing-led 17 + 1 forum

Lithuanian Foreign Minister to review relations with the Chinese. Observers predict the Baltic country will leave 17 + 1. Small EU nations increasingly dissatisfied with relations with China. Another blow to Beijing: Lithuania will open a commercial office in Taiwan.

Vilnius (AsiaNews) - Lithuania has not benefited from the 17 + 1 forum which gathers China and 16 countries in central and eastern Europe, 12 of which belong to the European Union.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis words shared yesterday with local media confirm AsiaNews prediction that Vilnius wanted to review relations with Beijing on the basis of respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

According to Landsbergis, China is using 17 + 1 to divide Europe, a claim also shared by Estonian intelligence. He did not announce the country's withdrawal from the 17 + 1 group, but stated that his government is evaluating "the useful way to build one's relationship with China".

Lithuanian experts and analysts, believe the divorce is imminent. Last month the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Lithuanian Parliament asked the nation leave the forum: the final decision could be taken jointly with the other two Baltic republics (Latvia and Estonia).

Most of the EU nations in the 17 + 1 are dissatisfied with relations with Beijing. They show that Chinese investments, especially those linked to the new Silk Roads (the Belt and Road Initiative), have decreased instead of increasing, while the trade deficit with the Asian partner has widened.

Six EU member states (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria) were represented by second-tier ministers at the annual summit of the 17 + 1 group, held online on 9 February, in what several observers interpret as an affront to Xi Jinping.

In another setback for China, the Lithuanian Ministry of Economy announced yesterday that the government will open a commercial office in Taiwan by the end of the year. Beijing considers the island a "rebel province" and opposes any diplomatic relationship between the Taiwanese authorities and those of other countries. According to various experts, after this move, Vilnius will have to prepare for the probable Chinese retaliation.