China Recalls Envoy to Lithuania In Spat Over De Facto Taiwan Embassy Opening

China said Tuesday it's recalling its ambassador to Lithuania in an ongoing diplomatic spat over the planned opening of a de facto Taiwanese embassy in Vilnius.

Taiwan has 23 representative offices in Europe, where the island nation's only formal diplomatic relationship is with the Holy See. All its missions carry the deliberately ambiguous language of "Taipei" instead of Taiwan or its formal title, the Republic of China.

China, which claims the democratically ruled island as a province, appeared to take issue more with the naming of the de facto embassy rather than its planned opening. A statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the Lithuanian government disregarded "repeated representations and articulation of potential consequences."

The decision "severely undermines China's sovereignty and territorial integrity," it continued. "The Chinese Government expresses its categorical opposition to this move."

Shen Zhifei, the Chinese envoy to Lithuania, would be recalled as a result, said the Foreign Ministry, adding that China had demanded Vilnius do the same. However, it remains unclear whether Lithuania will be obliged to withdraw its top diplomat in Beijing, Diana Mickeviciene.

Newsweek contacted the Lithuanian Embassy in Beijing for comment but didn't receive a response before publication.

The Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement online that it is "determined to pursue mutually beneficial ties with Taiwan like many other countries in the European Union and the rest of the world do."

Plans to establish a Taiwanese Representative Office in Vilnius were announced on July 20 by Taiwan's Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, who said Lithuania also would open a de facto embassy in Taipei later this year.

"Lithuania is a good partner for Taiwan who shares the same values for freedom and democracy," he told a virtual briefing at the time. It will be Taiwan's first European office in nearly two decades, following the 2003 opening of the Taipei Representative Office in Bratislava.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office described the decision as a "farce."

One China Policy

Ambassador Mickeviciene, who was appointed to the role last December, told AFP at the time: "The new Taiwanese office in Vilnius does not violate our One China policy, as it has been demonstrated by the fact that Taiwan has offices in 74 countries in the world, including in most EU members and some of Lithuania's neighbors."

"Lithuania is interested in expanding cooperation with Taiwan in many areas of common interest with a particular focus on promoting economic ties and cultural exchanges," she said.

Despite having missions on every continent, including a dozen in the United States, Taiwan has only 15 formal diplomatic allies. The recent goodwill cultivated between Taiwan and a number of Central and Eastern European countries comes at a time when China is courting the region through its "17+1" investment forum.

Lithuania quit the dialogue on May 22, shortly after its parliament declared China was committing "genocide" against Uyghurs and other minority ethnic residents in its northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Lithuania established formal diplomatic ties with China in 1992, two years after it regained independence from half a century of Soviet occupation. Its office in Beijing opened in 1995.

There was no indication that plans to establish reciprocal offices in Vilnius and Taipei had been jeopardized by the ongoing disagreement with Beijing.

Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou described Lithuania's determination to safeguard its dignity and freedom as "admirable." "Taiwan and Lithuania plan to establish reciprocal representative offices with the main aim of developing mutual interests and cooperation in trade, technology, education and culture," she told Newsweek.

"Taiwan currently has 110 offices in 72 countries, the majority (57) of which do not have formal diplomatic ties [with Taiwan]. These offices strengthen bilateral trade, education and culture; they benefit our two peoples cooperating in various fields and deepen their exchanges and friendships," Ou said.

Taiwan's future office in Vilnius would serve the same purpose, she added.

This story has been updated with statements by the Lithuanian and Taiwanese Foreign Ministries.

Taiwan Flag Flies Above Presidential Office Building
A file photo of Taiwan's flag on the tower of the Presidential Office in Taipei on January 13, 2021. Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images