CANBERRA — The foreign ministers of Australia and Lithuania agreed Wednesday to step up cooperation on strategic challenges, in particular pressures from China.
Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and his Australian counterpart Marise Payne met Wednesday at Parliament House.
Australian exporters have lost tens of billions of dollars to official and unofficial Chinese trade barriers covering coal, wine, beef, crayfish and barley that have coincided with deteriorating relations with Beijing.
Lithuania, a country of 2.8 million in the Baltic region, more recently drew Beijing’s ire after breaking with diplomatic custom by agreeing that Taiwan’s office in its capital Vilnius would bear the name Taiwan instead of Chinese Taipei, a term used by other countries to avoid offending Beijing.
“For quite a while, Australia was probably one of the main examples where China is using economy and trade as a political instrument or, one might say, even as a political weapon,” Landsbergis said.
“Now Lithuania joins this exclusive club . . . but it is apparent that we’re definitely not the last ones,” he added.
Payne said she agreed with Landsbergis on the importance of like-minded countries working together with a consistent approach to maintaining the international rules-based order, free and open trade, transparency, security and stability.
“There are many colleagues with whom the foreign minister (Landsbergis) and I work and engage on these issues . . . the more I think we are sending the strongest possible message about our rejection of coercion and our rejection of authoritarianism,” Payne said.
Landsbergis welcomed Australia to World Trade Organization consultations over a complaint by the European Union accusing Beijing of holding up goods — both from member nation Lithuania and from EU companies that use Lithuanian components — at China’s borders.
“We need to remind countries like China or any other country that would wish to use trade as a weapon that like-minded countries across the globe . . . have tools and regulations that help withstand the coercion and not to give in to . . . political and economic pressures,” Landsbergis said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Tuesday that China was adhering to WTO rules in its dealings with Lithuania.
“The so-called ‘coercion’ of China against Lithuania is purely made out of thin air,” he said Tuesday.
“China urges Lithuania to face up to the objective facts, mend its ways and come back to the right track of adhering to the one-China principle. It should stop confounding right with wrong and maliciously hyping things up, let alone trying to rope other countries in to gang up on China,” Zhao said.
The one-China principle holds that Taiwan is part of China and the Communist government in Beijing is China’s sole legitimate government.
Lithuania’s first embassy in the 31-year history of bilateral ties opened in Canberra on Wednesday. Lithuania also offered support for Australia reaching a free trade deal with the EU. Australia plans to open a trade office in Lithuania soon.
Landsbergis said disruptions by China and Russia of the “global rules-based order” required an international response. “We have to act counter-disruptively. That means reassuring and strengthening our ties and, actually, this rules-based order that provides security for some of us and prosperity also for the others,” he added.