While some in Lithuania once saw China as a potential partner for trade and investment, Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė says she has always been sceptical. Instead, she argues, Vilnius should develop ties with Asian countries “with a similar view of life”.
A rising economic powerhouse of 1.4 billion people, China is an attractive market. According to Šimonytė, there used to be “illusions or imagining” among some Lithuanians that relations with China “could simply be a huge benefit”.
“Enough time has passed and it shows that it's not the case. That we should reconsider,” she said.
“There have been sceptics of this approach, including here [in Lithuania] and I would count myself among them. Because when you look closer at the practices of this power in Asia and Africa, you may have doubts about whether that's the right game to play,” Šimonytė said during a discussion at the Eastern Europe Studies Centre on Friday.
In her view, Lithuania should talk with China as part of the EU, while close bilateral relations could be developed with Asian countries that share “a similar view of life”.
Lithuania has recently decided to open an embassy in South Korea and to develop closer ties with Japan.
“There's either space with the rule of law, free speech, private property, human rights – or another one, opposed to all these things. Naturally, sometimes these other spaces may seem attractive for business or economic relations, because they offer better returns, but also greater risks. And the risks are usually political,” Šimonytė said.
Earlier this year, Lithuania has pulled out of Beijing's 17+1 initiative for Central Eastern Europe and announced it will welcome a “Taiwanese” diplomatic representation in Vilnius and open an embassy in Taipei.
Beijing, which regards Taiwan as part of China, has responded by recalling its ambassador from Vilnius and demanding that Lithuania do the same.
Šimonytė stressed that her government's policy was not anti-Chinese. “It's a matter of priorities. [...] Our priorities to deal as much as possible with people and countries that see the world the same way we do,” Šimonytė said.