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2019.12.12 17:30

China's soft power: Pro-Beijing screening in Vilnius attracts government figures and officials

LRT.lt2019.12.12 17:30

A screening of a pro-Beijing documentary about Tibet in Vilnius attracted high ranking Lithuanian government officials and MPs. Meanwhile, the Baltic nation is fighting off attempts by China to establish a foothold in the country, according to senior politicians.

The documentary depicted Tibet’s landscapes and “its diligent people, while documenting the challenges of modernisation in a traditional society,” according to the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua. The film produced by China Central TV did not show the ongoing human rights abuses in Tibet which was occupied by China in 1950.

The event on December 4 was attended by Lithuanian government's Vice-Chancellor Deividas Matulionis and included “officials, parliamentarians [and] experts,” according to Xinhua.

Speaking at the event, Chinese Ambassador to Lithuania Shen Zhifei looked forward to "building a bridge of friendship between China and Lithuania,” according to Xinhua.

Matulionis was invited to the event by the Chinese ambassador, the Government Chancellery said in a statement to LRT.lt, adding that he did not make any formal speech at the screening or the reception afterwards.

“Matulionis consulted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about attending the event and it had no objections,” according to the statement. “Lithuania supports the One China policy, but Matulionis informed the ambassador that the Tibet issue was a sensitive and controversial topic for our society.”

The Government Chancellery also said that the documentary did not contain any direct propaganda.

Lithuania’s Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis said earlier in November that China is attempting to gain a foothold in the country’s only seaport in Klaipėda, which poses a direct risk to NATO.

Read more: China's push for Lithuanian port poses risk to NATO

Meanwhile, a research in Prague profiled Beijing’s attempts to use cultural soft power to spread its narrative in Eastern and Central Europe, including the Baltic states.

Utilising education, commemorative events and its own diplomatic staff and expat community, Beijing aims to isolate Tibetan leaders in exile, as well as challenge the questions of Taiwan and Hong Kong among the EU member states.

Read more: The rough face of China’s soft power in the Baltics – Investigation

"This movie painted a great picture of Tibet and Tibetan culture,” said Gabrielė Minkevičiūtė, a student of sinology at Vilnius University, according to Xinhua.

Countries in Central and Eastern Europe are particularly vulnerable to Chinese influence, analysts observe, due to the lofty investments offered by China.

In Lithuania, Chinese presence is closely linked with Belarusian business interests, as the Belt and Road Initiative has already expanded to Minsk.

Read more: Lithuanian hardline on Belarus cracks with China’s investment push

Lately, there have been a number of growing calls in Lithuania to view China’s actions with the same alert as Russia’s. However, Beijing-sponsored events in the Lithuanian capital have previously attracted high ranking diplomats and representatitives from the government and the political establishment.

In summer 2019, Vilnius sent a diplomatic note to Beijing over the participation of its embassy staff at a counter-protest against pro-Hong Kong demonstrators in the Lithuanian capital.

Read more: Chinese demonstration in Vilnius unmasks Beijing's reach into Lithuania – LRT Investigation