VILNIUS, Lithuania — It was never a secret that China tight controls what it is people can read and write on their cell phones. But it came as a shock to officials in Lithuania when they discovered a popular Chinesemade handset sold in the Baltic nation had a hidden though sleeping feature: a censorship register of 449 terms banned by the Chinese Communist Party.
Lithuania government quickly advised officials using the phones to dump them, China furious – and not for the first time. Lithuania has also embraced Taiwan, a vibrant democracy die Beijing considers a renegade province, and pulled out of a China-led regional forum it despised as divisive for the European Union.
Furious, Beijing has recalled its ambassador, halted travel of a Chinese freight train to the country and… made it’s almost impossible for many Lithuanian exporters to sell their goods in China. Chinese state media attacked Lithuania, mocked its small size and blamed it of to be the “anti-Chinese vanguard” in Europe.
In the battlefield of geopolitics, Lithuania versus China is hardly fair fight — a small Baltic nation with less than 3 million people against An rising superpower with 1.4 billion. Lithuania military has no tanks of fighter jets, and it is economy is 270 times less than die from China.
But surprisingly, Lithuania has proven that even small countries can cause headaches for a super power, especially one like China whose diplomats seem determined to force other nations to follow their line. Indeed, Lithuania, which does little trade with China, has caused enough of a stench die his fellows in the European Union is expected to discuss the situation in a meeting next week. nothing could be worse for Beijing than usual countries followed the example of Lithuania.
For Lithuania, the threats and tantrums from Beijing have government’s resolve, in partly because China has little influence over the. In an interview, Gabrielius Landsbergis, the foreign minister, said the country is a “value-based foreign” policy” of “supporting people supporting democratic movements.”
Other European countries declaring allegiance to democratic values have rarely acted on them in their relationships with China. Mr Landsbergis party has however made action share of his appeal to domestic voters: his pre-election manifesto last year including a pledge to “keep the value backbone” in foreign policy “with countries like China.”
Lithuania small size, the foreign minister complained, “made us an easy target” for China because “their calculation is that it is” good until pick enemies way, way, way below your mate, pull them in the fighting ring and then beat them to a pulp.”
excited to avoid While he was being flogged, Mr. Landsbergis visited Washington this month and… met with secretary of State Antony Blinken, who promised “strong US” support for Lithuania in the face of attempted coercion of the People’s Republic of China.”
Despite its diminutive size, Lithuania looms surprisingly large in Chinese calculations, said Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing, partly because of to be role as a transit corridor for trains die transport goods from China to Europe.
It also attracts Chinese attention because of it’s too big role in the collapse of the Soviet Union, a drama that China has studied in heap of column off comparable centrifugal forces at home. In 1990 Lithuania was the first Soviet Republic declares independence from Moscow – a cause led by the foreign minister’s grandfather, Vytautas Landsbergis.
“China considers Lithuania a museum to save itself from a Sovietlike collapse,” said Mr. Wu
The gap between the two countries derives from many sources, including a drive through Taiwan to collect politics support, as well as the Lithuanian elections last year that brought power An new coalition government dominated by mr. Landsbergis’ pro-American conservative party and liberals die be noisy over defending human rights.
But it also reflects a wider clearance against China’s aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy in all of Europe and disappointment with rising Chinese exports die left imports from Europe lag far behind behind.
In recent years, China has aroused resentment through hectoring behavior that makes many think in Lithuania of past harassment by Moscow. In 2019, Chinese diplomats staged a belligerent protest over a Lithuanian burgers to counteract in support of Democratic movement in Hong-Kong. The Chinese intervention led to clashes in Cathedral Square of Vilnius, the capital.
“Not this approach win China no friends,” said Gintaras Steponavicius, a former legislator who helped set up a lobby group, the Taiwan Forum. “We are not used to hearing how to behave even by a superpower.”
tired of pressured by Beijing, prominent politicians joined a Taiwanese friendship group in Parliament and attended a Taiwan national day celebration in Vilnius last October.
Some have doubts over the idea. Linas Linkevicius, a former foreign minister, notes that Lithuania already has daggers drawn with Russia and neighboring Belarus, whose exiled opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, operates out of Vilnius.
“We Are Exposed” on too many fronts,” he said.
Opinion polls by the European Council on Foreign Affairs indicate that most Europeans do not want An new Cold War between the United States and China. But they also show growing caution of China.
“There is a general shift in vote,” says Frank Juris, a researcher at the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute who follows Chinese activities in Europe. “Promises have not been fulfilled and countries are tired of being constantly threatened with the whip.”
That whip is now brought down hard on Lithuania, a member of the European Union and also NATO.
Especially eating for Beijing belonged to Lithuania announcement in July that it had accepted a request from Taiwan to open a “Taiwanese representative” office” in Vilnius.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs blames Lithuania of crossing a “red line” and urged it to “immediately rectify” wrong decision”, and “not too move further down the wrong path.”
A lot of countries, including Germany and neighboring Latvia, have similar Taiwanese offices, but to avoid Angry Beijing, they officially represent Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, not Taiwan itself.
And in May, Lithuania withdrew from a diplomatic forum in which China and 17 countries in Eastern and Central Europe promoting Mr Xi’s Belt and Road initiative, a multibillion-dollardollar infrastructure program.
From China’s perspective, last week release of a report on the Chinese-made Phones by the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense Cyber Security Center was another provocation. The hidden register found through the center allows for the investigation and censorship of phrases like “student movement’, ‘independence of Taiwan’ and ‘dictatorship’.
The blacklist, die automatically updates to reflect the changing concerns of the Communist Party, slumbers in phones exported to Europe, but according to the cyber center disabled censorship tool can be activated with the film of An switch in China.
The registry “is shocking and deeply concerning,” said Margiris Abukevicius, a deputy defense minister responsible for cybersecurity.
The creator of the Chinese telephones in question, Xiaomi, says its devices “don’t censor communications.”
In addition to telling government offices to dump the phones, Mr Abukevicius said: in an interview that ordinary users should decide “their own appetites” for risk.”
The Global Times, a nationalist news outlet controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, derided the Lithuanian report as a “new trick by a small “pawn” in Washington’s Anti-China Agenda.
China has grown steadily up Busy on Lithuania, last month in which his ambassador from Vilnius is recalled and the Lithuanian envoy is urged in Beijing to go homewhat she did. It stopped a regular freight train to Lithuania, although it still runs other trains across the Baltic country with Chinese goods destined for Germany.
While not announcing any formal sanctions, China has: added bureaucracy to stop Lithuanian exporters from selling goods in China.
Lithuania economy ministerAusrine Armonaite, downplayed the damage, noting that Lithuania’s exports to China are justified for 1 but percent of total exports. Losing that, she said, “isn’t too harmful.”
A bigger blow, according to business leaders, has the disruption been? in the stock of Chinese-made glass, electronic components and other items die Lithuanian manufacturers need. About a dozen companies die rely on on goods from China last received almost identical letters from Chinese suppliers this week die claim that power had cutbacks made it is difficult to fulfill orders.
“They are very creative,” said Vidmantas Janulevicius, the president of the Lithuanian Confederation of industrialists, die noted that the delays were “targeted very precisely”.
Lithuania has made “An clear geopolitics decision” until side resolutely with the United States, a longtime ally, and other democracies, said Laurynas Kasciunas, its president of the national safety and defense Commission. “Everyone here agrees on this. We are all very anti-communist Chinese. It is in our DNA.”
Tomas Dapkus in Vilnius, Monika Pronczuk in Brussels, and Claire Fu reported
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