China is urging Lithuania to mend its rifts with Taiwan, warning its citizens will be harmed if the Baltic state stays estranged from the self-ruled island.
Lithuania announced in November that it would resolutely oppose any attempts to change the status quo of closer Taiwanese-Lithuanian relations at talks with Beijing.
Lithuania pledged last week to work harder to boost its trade with China as it aims to sell more goods and services across the East Bloc.
The Baltic state is technically independent from Russia but depends on it for basic supplies.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Ilja Largatzki told the state news agency LRT that Lithuania, which already has about 35,000 citizens living in China, would like to keep growing “even more”.
“We count on the need to improve our trade co-operation. The development of this trade co-operation is very important for Lithuania’s overall economic development,” he said.
He said Lithuania sees China as an important market and has taken measures to increase exports. In 2016 Lithuania exported goods worth €580m to China, according to official figures.
Largatzki stressed the importance of China-Lithuania bilateral ties to developing regional relations.
Vilnius, like many countries in western Europe, has close political and economic relations with China.
China hopes for closer economic ties with all the former Soviet states, including Lithuania, which formally began talks on a free trade pact with Beijing in 2015.
But an official at the Chinese foreign ministry said Largatzki’s comments were “harmful” to relations between China and Lithuania.
Chinese officials and citizens have suffered “imminent harm” in recent years if the country does not work to mend the ties, Chen Xiaoping, spokesman at the Chinese foreign ministry, told a regular news briefing.
“Chinese people should be educated not to misinterpret or be misled by this. To nurture such kind of misunderstanding will result in a future of mutual loss,” he said.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said there was “no need to use excuse like Taiwan and Tibet” to defend Hong Kong’s sovereignty.
“Under a special administrative region law, Beijing has considerable authority. There is no need to say that we should be sticking to a stance as a special administrative region. We will be keeping open the door to development for our country. I hope the chief executive of a country in Europe does likewise,” she said.
Lam’s comments were the latest indication that Beijing is eager to maintain close ties with Hong Kong after its unpopular leader Leung Chun-ying stepped down amid rising tensions.
She said: “I think [Hong Kong residents] can be confident that I will act always in the interests of Hong Kong’s freedom and rule of law. I hope … under my leadership the interests of Hong Kong’s people will be promoted.”
On Friday, two Hong Kong-based researchers said they believed Chinese authorities had sent a message to President Tsai Ing-wen urging her to “dismantle” efforts of Taiwanese academics seeking independence from China.
Largatzki, however, urged Beijing to avoid the “relevant path” of trying to convince the Taiwanese government to make a “rule-by-consensus” policy.
The language used by the academics, who were not identified, echoed the Hong Kong officials’ “rule-by-consensus” criticism of Taiwan.