Chinese customs removed the Baltic state from its official customs database. Trade between the two countries has now stopped. Punitive action and precedent
Kai Streetmatter from StockholmAnd Christophe Jessen from Beijing
To eliminate a country like this? Chinese customs can do that, and it seems that the country of Lithuania no longer exists for customs officials in China.
A timber exporter from Lithuania was first reported in the local media last week. He told a Lithuanian news portal that 300 containers full of wood were stuck in ports like Shanghai after a two-month voyage across the world’s oceans. Then his Chinese partner informed him that customs do not allow imports. It soon became clear that the same had happened to other Lithuanian companies. “It seems that our country is no longer in the Chinese customs system,” said Vidmantas Janulevičius, president of the Federation of Lithuanian Industrialists.
The result: goods from Lithuania can no longer land in China – and vice versa, exports from China can reach Lithuania. No trading possible at the moment. There was no such thing before.
The step is “essential escalation”.
Reinhard Butekofer, Europaabgeordneter
At the moment, this is the final chapter in a dispute that has grown into a show battle between two very unequal opponents since the spring of this year: here is Lithuania with a population of 3 million people, and the second largest economy in the world, a country of 1, 4 billion dollars. Lithuania knew that Beijing had to be held accountable for punitive measures, and China had threatened the same many times, and its propaganda papers had cursed Lithuania for a “patriotic joke” that could be “crushed like a fly”.
But will a country be removed from the customs lists? He’s “never seen anything like this before,” says Reinhard Butekover, an expert on China and green MEP. The move is considered to be “a fundamental escalation” that requires a response from the European Union.
The dispute began this year when Lithuania left the China-led “17 countries plus 1” trade bloc led by China in Eastern and Central Europe – a first affront to Beijing. A little later, the scandal appeared: the rapprochement between Lithuania and Taiwan, which announced that it wanted to open an agency in Lithuania. And one should actually be called “representing Taiwan” rather than just “Taipei”, the name of Taiwan’s capital, as is customary around the world.
China called the return of the ambassador
Beijing considers Taiwan a part of China. Converting “Taipei” to “Taiwan” is actually a small step, as many observers have pointed out. This has nothing to do with the official diplomatic recognition of Taiwan as a country. But China sees it differently and has since accused Lithuania of violating its supposed one-China policy. First, Beijing stopped the movement of freight trains through Lithuania, and then withdrew its ambassador from Vilnius.
The leadership in Beijing has often pursued a policy of trade sanctions. After writer and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 2010, China imposed a ban on the import of Norwegian salmon. After tensions with Australia, the agency recently imposed punitive tariffs on Australian wine and refused to offload cargo from ships that loaded coal from Australia. But erasing a country from the customs declaration system as if it had disappeared from the ground is a new approach.