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The relationship between Taiwan and Lithuania is uncertain two years after the opening of Taiwan's office.
Economy Europe

The relationship between Taiwan and Lithuania is uncertain two years after the opening of Taiwan’s office.

After two years since the opening of a representative office in Lithuania, officials from Taiwan and Lithuania highlight advancements in their bilateral relations. However, analysts warn that changes in domestic politics in Lithuania could potentially impact the strengthened engagement.

According to Vilnius University international relations professor Tomas Janeliunas, after a two-year period of interaction with Taiwan, there are certain agreements in place with companies and organizations in Taiwan, particularly in the realm of semiconductors. However, it is important to consider the potential impact of any political changes within Lithuania on the country’s relationship with Taiwan and China. Janeliunas shared this insight with VOA during a phone interview.

He stated that although the focus of progress in bilateral relations has mainly been on strengthening economic and trade interactions, the overall direction is supported by the current Lithuanian government’s goal to increase cooperation with democratic countries.

The government stated their intention to strengthen ties with democratic nations, including Taiwan, ahead of the 2020 parliamentary elections. This would involve potential economic opportunities and collaboration in the technology sector.

In the past two years, Taiwan and Lithuania have established trade offices in both Taipei and Vilnius. During this time, trade between the two nations has increased by 50%. Teltonika, a prominent tech company in Lithuania, has formed a partnership with Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute, which is a government-funded organization. This collaboration will enable Teltonika to begin producing semiconductors domestically in 2027, utilizing technology from Taiwan.

Furthermore, Lithuanian businesses specializing in laser technology have reached an agreement to collaborate with a research institute in establishing the Ultrafast Laser Technology Research and Innovation Center in Southern Taiwan. This center will primarily focus on the development of medical and industrial applications.

In a recent interview in Vilnius, Lithuania’s deputy economic minister, Karolis Zemaitis, stated that the cooperation between both sides has been successful and has resulted in economic benefits. The focus has been on high-value-added sectors, particularly in the realm of high-tech. This has led to a mutually beneficial exchange and cooperation, with visible results for both sides.

In addition to strengthening economic connections, Taiwan and Lithuania have also enhanced their mutual interactions through official visits and collaborations to advance cooperation in fields such as scientific research and agriculture.

According to Eric Huang, Taiwan’s ambassador to Lithuania, the partnership is rooted in shared principles. In an interview with VOA in Vilnius, he stated, “Given the sensitivity of the semiconductor industry, it is imperative that there is political trust for successful cooperation. Our collaboration is built upon a foundation of values and involves multiple layers.”

In Europe, a promising outcome resulting from Lithuania’s efforts to strengthen relations with Taiwan is the European Union’s proposal to implement an anti-coercion measure. This tool would assist the EU in addressing countries that attempt to influence EU policies by limiting trade. In October, the European Parliament gave its approval for this plan, following China’s economic retaliation against Lithuania for establishing a Taiwanese representative office.

Last month, Estonia expressed interest in permitting Taiwan to establish a representative office in Tallinn. This move could potentially challenge the EU’s anti-coercion measures, which give Brussels the ability to respond strongly to external pressure, depending on China’s reaction.

Marcin Jerzewski, an expert on EU-Taiwan relations at the European Values Center for Security Policy, advised VOA over the phone that it is important to observe how China will react to the situation in Estonia in an aggressive manner. He also mentioned that the response from the EU will serve as a crucial indicator of the stability of recent events in Lithuania.

Although certain Lithuanian and Taiwanese officials have expressed optimism about the current status of their bilateral relations, there remains doubt within the Lithuanian government about the potential and advantages of strengthening ties with Taiwan.

In September, Asta Skaisgirytė, the main foreign policy advisor to President Gitanas Nausėda, stated in an interview with Lithuanian National Television and Radio that the significant investment promised by Taiwan upon opening their representative office in Vilnius has not been as substantial as Lithuania had hoped.

Some experts believe that Taiwan has not effectively followed through on its investment commitments. According to Jerzewski, there is a stronger interest in investing in Lithuania, but only one major deal with Teltonika has been completed. Jerzewski stated that Taiwan needs to better manage expectations.

Some experts point out that doubts within the country about the advantages of the partnership with Taiwan, as well as potential political changes in Lithuania, could hinder progress in the relationship between the two countries.

According to Jerzewski, the current administration is not doing well according to opinion polls. In the upcoming presidential election in May 2024, the Social Democrats and Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Association are gaining popularity as the preferred parties. These two parties have expressed the most reluctance towards strengthening connections with Taiwan.

According to Janeliūnas, despite opposition party members stating they may alter Lithuania’s relationship with China and Taiwan, he believes that if they were to win the upcoming presidential election, they would not significantly change Vilnius’ connections with Taipei.

“I doubt they would make a drastic decision to rename Taiwan’s representative office, as the potential political repercussions would be significant,” he stated in an interview with VOA. “While in opposition, you can be more daring in your statements, but when in power, you must consider all possible consequences.”

Last week, Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis shared that discussions have been taking place between Lithuania and China regarding the possibility of restoring diplomatic relations. This comes after Beijing downgraded their relationship with Vilnius in 2021 due to the establishment of the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania.

Although some individuals see Lithuania’s actions as a reaction to internal political pressure, Jerzewski suggested that China may use the opportunity to renegotiate their relationship with Taiwan as a prerequisite for reestablishing diplomatic ties. “It’s possible that China would require Lithuania to change the name of the Taiwanese representative office before agreeing to fully restore diplomatic relations,” he explained to VOA.