VILNIUS – Lithuania has to change the name of the Taiwanese representative office in Vilnius in all languages if it wants to normalize its relations with Beijing, Qu Baihua, China's acting chargé d'affaires in Lithuania, has said.
The office could use the name of Taipei, as similar institutions elsewhere in the world do, according to Qu Baihua, who is currently China's highest-ranking diplomat in Lithuania.
"If your government really wants to ease the tension, the first step is to change the name in all languages from 'Taiwanese' back to 'Taipei'. That's the first and very important thing," he has told BNS in an interview.
The representative office, which was opened in Vilnius last year, was named "Taiwanese" in the Lithuanian and English languages, but the Chinese version uses the name "Taiwan".
Beijing considers Taiwan as a renegade province that must be eventually reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.
According to Qu Baihua, the use of the island's name creates the impression of Taiwan being separate from China.
In the Chinese diplomat's words, contacts between officials show the official nature of relations between Lithuanian and Taiwan as well.
– LAST WEEK, YOU MET WITH LITHUANIAN MP GIEDRIUS SURPLYS. AFTER THE MEETING, HE SAID THAT, ACCORDING TO YOU, CHANGING THE NAME OF THE TAIWANESE REPRESENTATIVE OFFICE COULD BE THE WAY TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM BETWEEN CHINA AND LITHUANIA. COULD YOU ELABORATE?
– That's also the topic I would like to touch with you, simply because we have noticed there are quite many observations, also a lot of opinions by Lithuanian politicians, observers, even scholars, people from business. It shows that people really care about the relations between China and Lithuania. But we do see that there are some discrepancies or some ideas that do not reflect the facts. Mainly because some people don't have much better knowledge about China and Lithuania, also some people know what's going on but they pretend not to.
When you ask about the meeting, we did invite him for a meeting, it's normal for diplomats. (...) And our purpose is to promote bilateral relations, so we need to get feedbacks from all sides of society.
To answer your question, nothing is more important as the Taiwan issue. We noticed that some politicians say that's not about the Taiwan issue, maybe not because of the name of the Taiwan representative office in Vilnius, maybe because of some other things, (...) but the Taiwan issue is of China's core interest; it concerns Chinese national sovereignty and state security.
That's why we have been asking the government to handle the Taiwan issue properly.
– HOW SHOULD LITHUANIA DEAL WITH THAT ISSUE?
– The naming of the office has been the key issue since last July, when your government welcomed the establishment of the Taiwanese representative office. (...) We firmly oppose this kind of office, especially under the name of Taiwan.
– COULD YOU ELABORATE ON THE CORE REASONS WHY YOU OPPOSE TAIWAN'S NAME FOR THE OFFICE?
– Using Taiwan or Taiwanese in the name has sovereignty implications. Also that's what Taiwan authorities call a successful breakthrough in its diplomatic efforts over so many decades.
No other country that has diplomatic relations with China has ever allowed Taiwan to open its office under the name of Taiwan or Taiwanese. All are named after Taipei. We have made it very clear to your foreign ministry. We even printed all the names of representative offices in other countries and other countries’ offices in Taipei. No one uses this kind of name. That is why we say Lithuania made a bad precedent in the world. It creates a false impression to the public of one China, one Taiwan.
Some people, we noticed, downplay it and say that if you change the name, it will not result in anything...
– THE FOREIGN MINISTRY'S ARGUMENT WAS THAT THERE ARE OFFICES OF TAIWAN UNDER ITS OWN NAME. FOR EXAMPLE, TAIWAN CULTURAL CENTER IN PARIS. SO, WHY DOES THE OPENING OF THE REPRESENTATIVE OFFICE MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE?
– The Ministry of Foreign Affairs came with three or four examples of organizations with Taiwan's name. But those offices are not representative offices at all. An office in Lithuania represents Taipei, a cultural center only represents culture.
– YOU BELIEVE OFFICES LIKE THE ONE IN LITHUANIA ARE DE FACTO EMBASSIES?
– Yes. It's like a diplomatic representation. We could agree that you have non-governmental relations with Taiwan businesses, Taiwan people, but definitely not official. When we say properly handling the Taiwan issue we mean you should not have direct official contacts.
– ARE YOU ONLY CONCERNED ABOUT THE REPRESENTATIVE OFFICE'S NAME IN THE CHINESE LANGUAGE?
– No. It doesn't work by simply changing the name in Chinese from Taiwan to Taiwanese people. We don't accept that. (...)
If your government really wants to ease the tension, the first step is to change the name in all languages from "Taiwanese" back to "Taipei". That's the first and very important thing. (...) Our position has been very clear and consistent since last July – no "Taiwanese" in the name. (...)
– WHAT ARE THE OTHER STEPS?
The other steps – you need to abide to the one China policy. That means you should not have official relations with Taipei. (...)
– WHAT LITHUANIA HAS DONE IN VIOLATION OF THE ONE CHINA POLICY, ACCORDING TO YOU?
– (...) Your government officials are visiting Taiwan; they meet with Taiwan representatives, or invite Taiwan's foreign minister to speak in various formats; you received the head of the Taiwan delegation last November. We can call all of that official. Lithuania says the delegation was received by Lithuanian enterprises, but actually it was the Ministry of Economy and Innovation. Everybody knows that. Also, (...) you signed some memorandums, and that constitutes the official nature of links with Taiwan.
– BUT TO BE HONEST, NO GOVERNMENT REPRESENTATIVES VISITED TAIWAN, ONLY SOME MPS DID.
– Not yet. We haven't seen any of your government officials lately. In the past, some other officials have been to Taiwan. I understand that some of the Foreign Ministry's officials have very close contacts with Taiwan authorities.
– DO YOU MEAN VICE-MINISTER MANTAS ADOMENAS?
– He could be one, yes.
– AND WHO ARE THE OTHERS?
– I will not name them.
– DO YOU THINK LITHUANIA SHOULD APOLOGIZE TO CHINA?
– You should if you make mistakes... I don't expect a big apology, but we think it was a mistake. If this mistake was acknowledged by his excellency President Mr. Nauseda, so you need to have the courage to correct the mistake.
– THE FOREIGN MINISTRY SAID A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO THAT IT WAS IN CONTACT WITH CHINA TO DEESCALATE THE SITUATION. CAN YOU DESCRIBE THOSE CONTACTS?
– What time frame are you talking about?
– ONE TO TWO MONTHS. I'LL PUT MY QUESTION DIFFERENTLY: WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU MET ANY FOREIGN MINISTRY OFFICIAL?
– It could be some time in December. Since then, we have not had any meetings. We only saw there were a lot of debates about changing the name of the Taiwanese representative office, and some disagreement between the president and the government. The president asked for a de-escalation plan, but nobody came to us. If you really want to deescalate, you need to have better relations with China and Chinese people. We are here to talk.
In all meetings in November and December, we also said very explicitly that the door for negotiations between China and Lithuania is open. We told Mr. (Deputy Foreign Minister Egidijus) Meilunas that quite a few times. That means China has shown its sincerity that we have issues in between, (but) we would love to sort it all and discuss problems.
– WHEN DID YOU LAST MEET WITH ANY OFFICIAL FROM THE LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT'S TEAM?
– There was one meeting in December (...).
– DID YOU MANAGE TO FIND MORE COMMON GROUND WITH THE PRESIDENT'S OFFICE THAN WITH THE FOREIGN MINISTRY?
– We noticed that President Nauseda recognized there were no thorough consultations between yourselves, and when it comes to the name of Taiwan's office, that's not right, that's a mistake. (...) We share the same idea, but, of course, we are looking for more concrete actions: to make the change, to correct the mistakes.
– BUT NEGOTIATIONS USUALLY MEAN THAT BOTH SIDES NEED TO MAKE COMPROMISES. WHAT DOES CHINA PROMISE TO DO IF LITHUANIA TAKES THE STEPS YOU EXPECT?
– If Lithuania really takes actions to make corrections and we work together for the normalization of bilateral relations, the relations will go back to normal, all exchanges will be resumed: trade, business, culture, high-level official visits, consultations. These are normal channels, normal activities of two countries. (...) The Taiwan issue has downgraded relations between the two countries to the charge d'affaires level; that also means we have restricted our activities to the minimum. You can never expect to have full-fledged (...) activities between governments and people at a stage like this.
– BUT CHINA HAS PUBLICLY DENIED THAT THE GOVERNMENT HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE TRADE DISRUPTIONS THAT ARE CURRENTLY TAKING PLACE, AND NOW YOU SAY THAT CHANGING THE NAME OF THE OFFICE AND MAKING OTHER STEPS WILL RETURN THE SITUATION BACK TO NORMAL.
– The situation is not normal, right? The level of diplomatic representation is downgraded. Another thing is we also noticed the complaints from your business sectors that you have problems with imports and exports from China. That is not normal either, right? Interests of both countries' people are being hurt because of that.
– BUT CHINA IS SAYING THAT THE TRADE DISRUPTIONS THAT ARE TAKING PLACE ARE NOT RELATED TO THE OFFICIAL POSITION OF BEIJING...
– No (they are not). In China, we follow the rules. (...) Some say that China has some unofficial economic sanctions against Lithuania. No, no.
– BUT ON THE OTHER HAND YOU SAY THAT THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT CAN SOMEHOW IMPROVE THE SITUATION IF THE LITHUANIAN AND CHINESE BILATERAL TIES COME TO NORMAL. HOW IS THAT?
– No question. If we have normal relations, everything will be back to normal. (...) It's very normal. When relations between the countries become so difficult, it can't go unnoticed. (...) Because the Taiwan issue has become focal, that hurts not only the government, that hurts 1.4 billion people in China.
Normally, for the business partners who have business relations with Lithuanian companies, they themselves feel it is not good to do business with Lithuania anymore. If Lithuania is not trustworthy, it's not good for China's businesses to continue.
– THE US, CANADA, AUSTRALIA, THE UNITED KINGDOM AND JAPAN HAVE DECIDED TO JOIN CONSULTATIONS AT THE WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION BETWEEN CHINA AND THE EU REGARDING BEIJING'S ACTIONS AGAINST LITHUANIA.
– I don't have any good knowledge about that. I've read articles somewhere that the relevant Chinese authorities have met with the EU. So they have already. We don't have any objections to negotiations, since China follows the rules. We didn't do those kind of things your government accused us of doing. Also, we don't believe that this is the good way to solve the relations between Lithuania and China. The existing issue is a political one; it is about Taiwan, not economic. (...)
– DO YOU SINCERELY BELIEVE THE CONFLICT CAN BE SOLVED?
– Of course. When we have some disagreements or tensions, that is just for the time being. We are looking into (our) long history. (...) China and Lithuania does not have any fundamental disagreements; we don't have any conflicts on interests. China never regards Lithuania as a small county or looks down on Lithuania. That is not the Chinese way. The Chinese always respect countries, no matter how big or small, so we advocate for peaceful coexistence. (...)
– THANK YOU FOR THE INTERVIEW.