Mar 9, 2021 - World

Interview: Lithuania's deputy foreign minister on nation's "realistic" approach to China

The deputy minister sits at a desk

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Jurijus Azanovas

Mantas Adomėnas, Lithuania's deputy minister of foreign affairs, spoke to Axios about the country's decision last week to withdraw from a China-led regional summit and to open a trade office in Taiwan.

The big picture: Lithuania joins a growing number of smaller European countries that are starting to hold China at arm's length amid concerns of political influence and a conflict of values.

What's happening: Last month, Lithuania and several other countries downgraded their attendance at the 17+1 summit, an annual meeting for central and eastern European countries led by China, by sending lower-ranking government officials to meet with Xi.

  • Then last week, Lithuania announced it would withdraw entirely from the summit.

Adomėnas told Axios that after reviewing the country's relationship with China, "we realized that 17+1 does not deliver. It was a format that does not provide any economic benefits that it had promised."

  • In addition, the meetings were "always on the initiative and terms and agenda proposed by China. There was a distinct lack of mutuality in this format."

Between the lines: Lithuania's decision doesn't simply stem from a purely economic calculation. It's become increasingly apparent to officials there that China uses economic leverage to weaken other countries' commitments to liberal values and human rights, thus eroding global support for democracy.

  • "Democratic countries are considering a more realistic approach to China," Adomėnas said. "Human rights and values were definitely not a part of the discussion [in 17+1] and earlier attempts to steer discussion into this area were met with lack of response."

More from the interview: On growing concerns that China is trying to weaken EU cohesion, Adomėnas said:

  • "Certain formats weaken a unified response. And we should react to that by searching for formats where the ability of the union to speak with one voice could be protected. If the EU wants to recover its role as a world power, which it is, it must do that by not succumbing to economic interests and devolving into subregional formats."
  • "We feel that if we want to maintain the character and initial values of the EU that we joined almost 17 years ago, we need to find a way of reminding ourselves as well as our partners and competitors that this union is not just about economic interest and protecting investments rights, but it’s also about a certain vision of freedom, human rights and rule of law."

The bottom line:

  • "As Lithuanians, we see our survival as conditional on the international order based on the rule of law and seeking for the increase of democracy," Adomėnas said.
  • "We wouldn’t have been able to emerge from the rule of Soviet Union if the West was not seeking to increase the area of democracy. So we have to get back to this game."

Go deeper: Estonia warns of "silenced world dominated by Beijing"

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