Beijing’s move comes as retaliation for Lithuania permitting a diplomatic office opening in its capital, Vilnius, under the name Taiwan. In a statement, the foreign ministry announced that diplomatic relations will be downgraded to charge d’affaires in opposition to this de facto embassy for Taiwan.
They said: “The Chinese government had to lower diplomatic relations between the two countries […] in order to safeguard its sovereignty and the basic norms of international relations.”
The statement added: “The Lithuanian government must bear all consequences that arise from this.”
Allowing Taipei to open a diplomatic centre in Vilnius goes against the Chinese government’s vigorous attempts to keep the island under its influence.
Beijing pushes its One China policy – a diplomatic acknowledgement of a single government ruling China and Taiwan.
China steadfastly insists that Taiwan is a breakaway part of China, to be reunified in the future with the mainland.
Citing this principle, which is a cornerstone of much of China’s diplomacy with the wider world, the foreign ministry said that Lithuania had “abandoned the political commitment made upon the establishment of diplomatic relations” with China.
Lithuania’s counterpart foreign ministry expressed regret over China’s decision to downgrade relations.
In a statement, they said: “Lithuania reaffirms its adherence to the One China policy, but at the same time has the right to expand cooperation with Taiwan.”
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However, many countries maintain diplomatic ties with China whilst simultaneously holding trade or commercial links with Taiwan.
Escalating tensions around the island’s sovereignty have seen international players appealed to by Taiwan’s leader, Tsai Ing-Wen.
Taiwan has had a separate leader to mainland China since 1949, following the civil war.
At the start of October, Taipei warned of record numbers of Chinese aircraft incursions in Taiwanese airspace, adding that Taiwan would “do whatever it takes to defend itself” against Beijing.
Ms Tsai warned of “catastrophic consequences” of the “increasingly aggressive” attempts to bring the island back firmly into the fold of mainland China.
Ms Tsai, writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, described how “the story of Taiwan is not only about the maintenance of our own democratic way of life.
“It is also about the strength and sense of responsibility Taiwan brings to efforts to safeguard the stability of the region and the world.”
She continued: “As countries increasingly recognize the threat that the Chinese Communist Party poses, they should understand the value of working with Taiwan”.