Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told Politico late last week that EU states should stop talking to China bilaterally or through regional formats like the 16+1 (previously the 17+1 prior to his country withdrawing in May) and instead embrace a so-called “united talks” format. On the surface, this proposal might not sound so bad. There’s a certain strategic logic in China and the EU engaging with one another in such a way. Nevertheless, the EU should still be wary of Lithuania’s proposal because it might have malign intentions.
Lithuania not only withdrew from the 17+1 format of engagement between the Central & Eastern European (CEE) countries and China, but its parliament also described China’s combined anti-terrorist and job training programs in Xinjiang as “genocide” that same month. In addition, Politico noted that the former Soviet Republic scaled up its relations with Taiwan in recent months. It deserves mentioning that Lithuania also plays an active role in the US-led efforts to destabilize neighboring Belarus and is antagonistic towards Russia.
This crucial background context strongly suggests that Lithuania is behaving as an American proxy in Europe. Vilnius voluntarily accepts this role because it wrongly believes that it’s the best means for bestowing it disproportionate strategic significance in the bloc. The tiny country thinks that it has outsized sway nowadays in terms of the trouble that it’s causing for the EU’s relations with China, Russia, and Belarus, but it shouldn’t be proud of this ignoble ambition. Everyone in the EU should be aware of the destabilizing role that it plays.
Foreign Minister Landsbergis was lying when he told Politico that “It’s not our international partners or other players that divide us, but we let ourselves be divided when talking to other international players.” Conducting international diplomacy through bilateral and regional formats doesn’t lead to countries dividing themselves, but is the exact opposite since it brings everyone closer together. He as his country’s top diplomat should know this. Instead, he’s desperately trying to deceive everyone into thinking that such diplomacy is detrimental.
From the looks of it, Lithuania is trying to manipulate the EU’s predisposition towards multilateralism in order to enable itself to further meddle in the bloc’s relations with China. At the moment, Lithuania cannot do anything meaningful to disrupt China’s relations with Europe after withdrawing from the 17+1 format. All that it can do is rabble-rouse by spewing a combination of fake news and groundless fearmongering narratives. It actually lost whatever influence it thought it had through its irresponsible and counterproductive actions.
Lithuania’s fallback plan is therefore to mislead the EU into abandoning bilateral and regional engagement with China so that this Baltic country can regain some influence by being able to officially interfere with their ties through the proposed “united talks” format. Considering Vilnius’ vicious hostility towards Beijing, which arguably is influenced by its patrons in Washington, everyone in the EU should be suspicious of its plans. It doesn’t want to improve their ties with China, but worsen them by hijacking the “united talks” format.
For example, Lithuania could use that high-profile pulpit to spew propaganda about Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Xinjiang. It could also provoke a diplomatic incident during the talks such as by walking out on Chinese speakers while they address their audience. France and Germany, both of whom Lithuania’s top diplomat criticized for their pragmatic ties with China, would be aghast at such aggressive actions. Their policymakers should know that Lithuania is only trying to divide them from China and should therefore not fall for this trap.
With all of this in mind, it compellingly appears to be the case that the US is employing Lithuania as its proxy to meddle in the EU’s relations with China. That small country surrendered its strategic sovereignty to the US because it mistakenly thought that this would also serve its own interests. Instead, all that it did was isolate Lithuania from the irreversible process of improved EU-Chinese relations. Nothing that it does will reverse this trend. The harder that it tries to do so, the more ridiculous Lithuania will look to the rest of the world.