China Warns 'Taiwan Independence Is a Dead End' Amid De Facto Embassy Opening in Europe

China has warned the governments of Taiwan and Lithuania after officials confirmed on Tuesday plans to establish de facto embassies in each other's capitals in the coming months.

Announcing the decision in Taipei, Taiwan's Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu called the agreement "very significant." The Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania will be its first in Europe in nearly two decades—and the first to bear the language "Taiwan" instead of the diplomatically ambiguous "Taipei."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Beijing opposes "official exchanges of any kind" between Taiwan and countries with formal diplomatic relations with China.

The People's Republic of China claims Taiwan as part of its territory but has never governed the island or had any jurisdiction over it. Taiwan says it is already a sovereign state under the formal name Republic of China.

Lithuania should "abided by the one China principle," Zhao said, referring to Beijing's insistence that all diplomatic relations be established on the tacit acknowledgement that Taiwan is a Chinese province.

"Taiwan independence is a dead end," Zhao said in a warning to the Taiwanese government.

Also on Tuesday, Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office called plans for mutual representative offices in Taipei and Vilnius a "farce."

The establishment of de facto embassies in the two cities "cannot change the fact that Taiwan is a part of China," said spokesperson Zhu Fenglian.

Taiwan's Foreign Minister Wu, who China has threatened to blacklist for life, said the representation agreement was the result of "proactive discussions" between the two governments.

"Lithuania is a good partner for Taiwan who shares the same values for freedom and democracy," he told a virtual briefing. Preparations for the office opening were underway, Wu said, noting that the Lithuanian office would open in Taipei in autumn.

The United States also applauded the decision. The Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs said the U.S. "welcomes Taiwan's expanding international partnerships and its work to address shared challenges, including COVID-19, investment screening, and supply chain resilience."

Proud to announce that we will be opening The Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania. We look forward to working together even more closely as like-minded partners & friends. Thank you to everyone in #Taiwan & #Lithuania who made this possible. pic.twitter.com/uPEBN95cPB

— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) July 20, 2021

In what observers have termed China's "poaching" of Taiwanese allies, the island nation now has official embassies in only 15 countries. Elsewhere—including 23 scattered across Europe—Taiwan is represented by an "office" or "mission."

Its last new presence in Europe was the Taipei Representative Office in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava, opened in 2003. Since last September, it has had a Taiwan Representative Office in Somaliland, but the republic—considered officially part of Somalia—remains unrecognised.

In the U.S., Taiwan is present as the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington, and has a dozen Taipei Economic and Cultural Office branches across the country.

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 was established in 1995.

Last year, Vilnius opposed China's imposition of its national security law for Hong Kong. On May 20, the Lithuanian parliament declared Beijing was committing "genocide" against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, before the Baltic state quit China's "17+1" forum for exchange and investment in Central and Eastern Europe two days later.

On June 22, Lithuania announced it would contribute to Taiwan's vaccine stockpile by donating 20,000 doses of AstraZeneca. The donation, while modest, sent a meaningful signal to Taipei from Europe at a time when Taiwan's vaccine rollout was marred with uncertainties and opposition politicians called for the government to seek assistance from Beijing.

Taiwan To Open De Facto Embassy Europe
File photo: Taiwan's national flag. MARVIN RECINOS/AFP via Getty Images