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In an unequal war with China, Lithuania’s brand becomes toxic

VILNIUS, Lithuania — A family-owned semiconductor company in Lithuania doesn’t sell anything to China, so it didn’t worry much last year when Beijing, angry with the Baltic nation for being so close to Taiwan Loan, start blocking imports of dairy products, peat and anything else. it can be found with the label “Made in Lithuania”.

The closure to Lithuanian exports, however, is only the beginning.

Today, Kristijonas Vizbaras, a founder of the successful chip maker Brolis Group, says anything has a “Lithuania smell”, no matter how faint – for example, a German car with a small parts manufactured in Lithuania – are at risk of being intercepted by China.

“Unfortunately, Lithuania has become a toxic label,” he said, lamenting that China’s economic strength has given it irresistible leverage over global supply chains – and as a result. The result is the ability to strike anywhere these chains intersect with his tiny Baltic state or any other country that antagonizes Beijing.

Noting that foreign customers buying laser sensor chips made by Brolis Group want to avoid being blacklisted by China, the company recently canceled plans to build a $50 million factory in China. home and wanted to set up this factory in Belgium instead.

The messy war between Lithuania, with a population of less than 3 million, and China began last summer over a representative office that Taiwan, a thriving democracy that Beijing claims is its territory. China, is opening in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.

That feud has now widened. The German-Baltic Chamber of Commerce warned Lithuania in December that its members working in the high-tech sectors have been affected by “the China-Lithuanian trade bottleneck in an existential way.”

Beijing has targeted foreign economies before. In 2010, it stopped importing salmon from Norway after the Oslo-based Nobel Peace Prize committee honored a Chinese dissident writer. And in 2020, they blocked agricultural products from Australia after they called for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, which was first detected in China.

But the brutality and scope of China’s attempt to punish Lithuania is a new level of vengeance.

In January, the European Union filed a lawsuit against China with the World Trade Organization, calling the actions against Lithuania “illegal and discriminatory”, but largely caused one of The smallest and weakest pellets have to fend for themselves. While publicly pledging solidarity with Lithuania, Josep Borrell, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, has privately urged the bloc to appease Beijing by having the office represent “Taipei” rather than Taiwan. .

China has sent a blunt message not only to Lithuania but to the entire European bloc, at a time when recent elections have exposed pro-China governments and made many skeptical of China. More countries, like the German Greens, currently control the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Berlin, and the Czech Pirate Party, are in charge of foreign policy in Prague.

Adding to China’s alarm is Slovenia’s recent decision to let Taiwan open a representative office. China responded by saying it was “severely shocked” and warning Slovenia that it was on a “dangerous path”. The Slovenian Foreign Ministry quickly clarified that the office would use the name “Taipei,” not “Taiwan.”

“Using a Chinese phrase, they are killing chickens to scare monkeys, especially the German macaque,” ​​said Theresa Fallon, director of the Center for Eurasian Russian Studies in Brussels. Center for Eurasian Russian Studies in Brussels. “Many European leaders look at Lithuania and say, ‘God, we won’t do anything to upset China.’

Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania’s foreign minister and driving force for closer ties with Taiwan, traveled to France in January to attend a meeting of EU foreign ministers, but received little support. beyond vague promises of solidarity. There is no clear movement on long-stalled European proposals for so-called anti-coercive tools against foreign bullying.

A coordinated response is difficult because while China frequently berates and belittles Lithuania through the Communist Party-controlled media – the Global Times, a filial party mouthpiece. war, mocked the country as “just a rat, or even a flea, at the feet of a fighting elephant” – the country has not officially declared any sanctions or sanctions. any other penalty against the Baltic State or its economic partners.

“The Global Times is their main tool for communicating with us,” said Jovita Neliupsiene, Lithuania’s Deputy Economy Minister. Lithuania’s trade with China, she added, disappeared almost overnight, but “nothing was declared.”

Not surprisingly, China expressed its anger towards the Taiwan office and Lithuania’s previous decision to cancel a China-led diplomatic forum, by stopping imports from Lithuania, which accounts for only 1% of Baltic exports.

Unexpectedly, however, China will also stop its exports to Lithuania, depriving manufacturers of the components and materials needed.

“Rationally, it is very unusual for a country to ban its own exports,” Mr. Neliupsiene said.

Sigitas Besagirskas, head of the Vilnius Business and Industry Association and owner of a small glider manufacturer, gets most of its materials from Germany but also needs a few small but important parts from China. When the Chinese supplier refused to sell to him, he said, he turned to an Estonian company to order parts. But the supplier quickly discovered that the final buyer was in Lithuania and stopped selling.

“Anyone connected to Lithuania cannot export or import from China,” Mr. Besagirskas said.

The continued blows from China have made even the president of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausea, question his country’s policy towards Taiwan. The president said in a radio interview in January that it was a “mistake” for the office to use the name Taiwan.

Many ordinary Lithuanians, while immensely proud of their country’s central role in the collapse of the Soviet Union, think it foolish to confront China, a major communist power. other. An opinion poll commissioned by the State Department showed that only 13% of those surveyed supported the government’s Taiwan policy.

Besagirskas, the glider manufacturer, derided the approach to Taiwan as well-intentioned but resigned. “Of course, we all want China to be different. It is completely undemocratic. But we are a small country, and changing China is an impossible mission for us.”

A poll conducted by his business association found that nearly three-quarters of all member companies are under China’s undeclared economic blockade.

“They are trying to remove Lithuania from the world economic map,” said Laurynas Kasciunas, chair of Parliament’s defense and security committee.

Even Chinese goods for which Lithuanian companies have paid for and arranged for shipping are now stuck at Chinese ports, entangled in red tape, subject to unscheduled inspections and other obstacles.

“It’s all very sophisticated and very precisely targeted,” said Vidmantas Janulevicius, president of the Federation of Lithuanian Industrialists, who has had dozens of containers of materials for the solar panel company. was blocked for months at Chinese ports.

The Confederation of German Industries complained in a statement late last year: “China’s recent measures against Lithuania are acting as a trade boycott with EU-wide effects.. Imports from China that require German production facilities in Lithuania and exports from Germany to China containing Lithuanian ingredients are also affected.

However, the European Union is deeply divided between countries like Hungary, which regularly blocks claims against Beijing, and those that favor a harder line. France has pledged to have legislation for the movement of “anti-coercive instruments,” but few expect that to happen anytime soon.

The United States has also pledged to stand with Lithuania against Beijing but has not offered much concrete support.

The only place that has offered anything solid so far is Taiwan, which in January announced that it was setting up a $200 million fund to invest in Lithuania and other hard-hit countries in the region, and a separate $1 billion program to fund joint projects, including end-semiconductors. Taiwan has also begun to import large quantities of Lithuanian goods, mainly food products and rum.

Eric Huang, the head of Taiwan’s newly opened office in Vilnius, located on the top floor of a high-rise office tower, said his government wanted to help ease the pain of China’s attacks. against Lithuania.

“Democracies should work together, otherwise we will set a precedent,” he said. “If China is unhappy with a country today on one issue, tomorrow it will be the same story on another issue.”

Tomas Dapkus contribution report from Vilnius, Melissa Eddy from Berlin and Monika Proncczuk from Brussels.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/21/world/europe/china-lithuania-taiwan-trade.html In an unequal war with China, Lithuania’s brand becomes toxic

Fry Electronics Team

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