By filing a formal complaint against China at the World Trade Organization this week, the European Union is putting its weight in support of member state Lithuania, inserted as a test of the EU’s willingness to protect the interests of its smallest members. He is going. The face of Chinese power and aggression.
The complaint, which calls for a decision from the World Trade Organization, alleges that China violated the trade body’s rules by taking action against Lithuania, which is also an EU member-inclusive single market and supply chain. intervenes.
China’s actions are widely seen as intended to punish the Baltic country of 2.8 million people for leaving 17+1, a regional grouping established by Beijing, and planning to host a Taiwanese representative office in its capital. which is named “Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania”. instead of “Taipei Representative Office”, as such offices are titled elsewhere.
“Over the past weeks, the European Commission has built up evidence … refusing to clear Lithuanian goods through customs, rejecting import applications from Lithuania, and those operating out of other EU member states. pressured EU companies to remove Lithuanian inputs from their supply chain. While exporting to China,” the EU said in a statement on Thursday, adding that China’s action “appears to be discriminatory and illegal under WTO rules.” “
Prior to the announcement, a European Commission spokesman in Brussels told the VOA: “As we have consistently emphasized, the EU will stand against all forms of political pressure and coercive measures applied against any Member State. Standing together. Lithuanian exports are EU exports.”
Jonathan Hackenbroich, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told VOA that some within the EU initially questioned how far Lithuania interacted with other member states before announcing its decisions regarding China and Taiwan. Compared to those concerns, China’s actions threaten the political and economic integrity of the 27-member bloc.
If China’s action is not challenged, EU member states and businesses will lose much of their independence, Hackenbroich warned in a recent essay, Coercion with Chinese characteristics: how Europe should respond to interference in its internal trade,
The essay states that while China’s aggressive thinking and actions “should be a source of great concern to European businesses and governments,” the EU needs to urgently recognize and effectively counter China’s coercion against nations and Must do more who defy his wishes.
“Look, everyone can understand that this is a test,” said Benjamin Haddad, senior director of the Europe Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington. “It is a test of whether Europeans will break their solidarity with one of their smaller members in exchange for economic interests.”
Haddad told the VoA that he would not be surprised if the European Union takes strong measures in support of Lithuania. “Because I think that’s just the feeling that Lithuania should not be left alone.”
Furthermore, doing so is in line with the vision for Europe laid out by French President Emmanuel Macron. France assumed the presidency of the European Union for six months on 1 January. “If you talk about sovereignty, or if you talk about strategic autonomy, it means protecting all members of the European Union against external challenges and threats. Clearly we have China as one. is offensive against the smaller (EU) members.”
French and EU policymakers are undoubtedly conscious of a “widespread shift in European mindset about China”, Haddad said.
“Three years ago, the EU issued a paper saying that China is a trade partner, an economic competitor, but also a systemic rival; I think you now prefer the greater systemic rival piece. give.”
The battle between Beijing and Vilnius has been closely watched around the world. Analysts in Poland recently wrote that China’s new, more aggressive strategy is also meant to intimidate other EU countries, mainly in Central Europe, “where the economic cooperation model with China is similar to that of Lithuania.”
That model includes only modest direct sales to China but significant indirect exports through the supply chains of Western European companies. China is implementing its punitive measures for products containing any Lithuanian-made ingredients, which analysts describe as secondary sanctions that also harm businesses and industries in third countries, including other EU countries .
Lithuania’s direct exports to China account for only 1% of its total exports, but its industry and manufacturing are closely linked with German and other multinational corporations, which Beijing is pressing to stop sourcing from Lithuania.
Given Germany’s status as an economic superpower in the European Union, German businesses and the government’s response to pressure from China is considered critical.
Observers observed that the Federation of German Industries, or BDI, supported the EU’s WTO filing, saying the union needed to take decisive measures.
New message from Berlin
Addressing an audience gathered at the Mercator Institute to discuss his China 2022 forecast, German Deputy Foreign Minister Tobias Lindner described the disagreement with China as “touching the core of European values and interests – it is not right now.” Not addressing will cost us dearly. Going forward.”
“We will continue to seek cooperation between China and the EU and Germany,” Lindner said. “However, the partnership we seek will be viewed strategically: is it in line with our values? Is it in our best interest?”
Lithuania’s top economic official said his government had not ruled out a diplomatic solution, while also taking forward the role of the European Union. “If the EU talks in one voice, there is always a solution,” said Osrin Armonite politician,
“When it comes to the situation Lithuania is in, today it is Lithuania; the day after tomorrow it could be any other European country,” she said.
There are signs that mutual support and solidarity among EU countries is taking root as the bloc and member states face challenges from multiple directions individually.
“The fact that we are members of the European Union means that we must protect other EU member states, should they feel they are being coerced by third parties,” Slovenian Foreign Minister Ange Logar said. Told VOA. Interview last month.
In September, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa wrote a letter to EU member states urging them to support Lithuania as the latter began to receive punitive blows from Beijing.
Asked whether Slovenia has come under criticism from Beijing because of the letter, Logar said it doesn’t matter.
“It’s a matter of principle,” he said. “If you are a member of a club, you must defend your allies in this club, because we expect that we will be defended when an outsider attacks us, that other member states will come to our rescue. “
Slovenia may soon need help from EU clubs. Slovenian businesses reported that their contracts were being canceled by China after Jansa described the strategy deployed by China against Lithuania as “terrible” and said their government was in talks with Taiwan to set up a representative office.
On Thursday, following the EU’s WTO filing announcement, the US Trade Representative’s office announced that “the United States will request Lithuania and the EU to join these @WTO consultations in solidarity.”
The State Department announced on Friday that Jose Fernandez, Under Secretary for Economic Development, Energy and Environment, will travel to Vilnius on Sunday, followed by a stay in Brussels.
The State Department said Washington’s “continued strong support for Lithuania in the face of political pressure and economic coercion from the People’s Republic of China” is on the agenda for discussions between Fernandez and his Lithuanian counterparts. Fernandez will also discuss measures to counter the economic pressure with EU officials in Brussels.