12/01/2021, 16.24
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Lithuanian MP visits Taipei: ‘Many are watching us to see’ if we can resist Beijing

by Emanuele Scimia

Matas Maldeikis heads a joint delegation of Baltic lawmakers. The Chinese have punished Lithuania for letting the Taiwanese open an office in Vilnius under the name "Taiwan." Support for the island is expanding in the Old Continent. Europe-Taiwan microchip cooperation is progressing.

Rome (AsiaNews) – “This is a general trend in Europe regarding China. Many are watching us to see how it will develop, what will be the results, would Beijing’s ‘retaliation’ have any substantial effect,” said Matas Maldeikis, a Lithuanian lawmaker.

The head of the Taiwan friendship group in his country’s Parliament, Maldeikis believes that other European Union member states will eventually follow Lithuania’s example and expand political and economic ties with Taiwan.

“Everyone [in Europe] understands that economic cooperation with Taiwan, a technologically advanced country, is profitable,” he told AsiaNews. What is more, since “Taiwan is a democratic country abiding by the principles of human rights and the rule of law, it is possible to build long-term stable cooperation [with it].”

Two other Baltic republics, Latvia and Estonia, are already doing this. Maldeikis is in fact currently leading a joint delegation of Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian parliamentarians to Taipei.

This comes after the Taiwanese government opened a representative office in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on 18 November under the name "Taiwan", prompting an immediate response from Beijing. According to mainland China, failure to use the name Taipei is a violation of the "one China policy". For the Communist Party of China, the island is a "rebel" province to be retaken by force if necessary.

On November 21 the Chinese downgraded their diplomatic ties with Lithuania to the “charge d'affaires” level. In August, after the announcement of the opening of what is the "de facto" Taiwanese embassy in Lithuania, Beijing had recalled its ambassador to the Baltic country. The Beijing government has also taken coercive economic measures against the Lithuanians, who received (lukewarm) support from the EU and more substantial backing from the United States, with the Biden administration promising economic aid.

A bipartisan delegation from the US Congress also visited Taipei last week. One member of the group, Michigan Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, revealed that once news of the trip broke, her office received a “blunt” message from the Chinese embassy in Washington asking her to cancel the visit.

Maldeikis claims that he did not receive any “order” of this kind from Chinese diplomats. In fact, “they don’t need to pass private messages, they have said enough publicly about how they oppose any official contacts between other countries and Taiwan.”

Last month the EU postponed plans to boost trade cooperation with Taiwan, a decision seen by several observers as an attempt to balance relations with Beijing. However, for Maldeikis, the move by the European Commission is not likely to derail cooperation with Taiwan.

“Any international trade agreement is a complicated process requiring lots of technical consultations, negotiations usually take time, sometimes years,” he said. For this reason, he added, no one should jump to any conclusions just because there are no immediate effects. “Of course, now the momentum is very favourable and we should not lose it. The more individual member-states intensify their ties with Taipei, the easier it will be to make decisions on the EU level.”

And progress is certainly happening to EU-Taiwan cooperation on microchips. Taiwan is one of the world's leading manufacturers.

Maldeikis notes that the announced cooperation in this sector between his country and the Taiwanese may pave the way for a broader agreement with the EU. “Chips and semiconductors are components of many critical technologies. In this field, cooperation with Taiwan is simply a pragmatic choice,” he explained. “If we can show a good example of successful partnership and contribute to building more resilient supply chains, it will be useful for the whole EU."

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