Lithuania is fighting off China’s attempts to gain a foothold in the country’s only seaport in Klaipėda, according to Lithuanian Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis.
“We will not allow them the controlling [stake],” Karoblis told the Washington Examiner, adding that the status of Klaipėda has been on NATO’s agenda throughout 2019. “We can't afford that China controls Klaipėda port.”
As the majority of US and overseas NATO forces arrive via Klaipėda, Chinese entrenchment may pose strategic risks. Beijing could “create obstacles for the arrival of military cargoes, military equipment, [or] reinforcements” in a crisis, according to Karoblis.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda also said in July that Chinese investments presented national security risks, even while the negotiations for Klaipėda’s 800-million-euro port expansion have dragged on for a decade.
The Washington Examiner quotes a “Baltic official” familiar with discussions surrounding Klaipėda port expansion who claims China has been keen to see its presence grow – “China says, ‘no, no, no – we want to invest, but we need to control it, to have 50% and more.’”
China’s Belt and Road Initiative has already reached Belarus, where Beijing is building the Great Stone industrial park near Minsk.
In October, Lithuanian Transport and Communications Minister Jaroslav Narkevič visited the enterprise, saying that Lithuania is interested in preventing Belarusian shipments from being diverted to Latvian ports.
Read more: Belarusian leader to visit Latvia as Baltic ports compete for Minsk business
Belarus currently channels its cargo through Lithuania, profiting the local enterprises. However, China has been keen to link the silk road via Belarus to Klaipėda.
According to the Washington Examiner, Lithuania is warning other NATO states about the defence-related risks of Chinese investments.
“Our position is very clear, that it's a strategic infrastructure project,” he said. “We can't afford to be dependent on China.”
Yet companies with links to Belarus have been increasing their presence in the port of Klaipėda, which Lithuanian politicians say, may come with strings attached. Links with Minsk could also hide third-party connection to Beijing.
Read more: Lithuanian hardline on Belarus cracks with China’s investment push