TAIPEI – Taiwan announced on Tuesday that it will open a de facto embassy in the Baltic country of Lithuania, which risks further straining ties with Beijing by deepening diplomatic engagement with an island that China considers its own territory.

Lithuania said earlier this year it plans to open its own representative office in Taiwan, a decision that angered Beijing. The country announced last month it would also donate 20,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to Taiwan.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told reporters in Taipei the new mission in Vilnius would be called the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania, though he did not say when it would open.

“Taiwan and Lithuania are both at the strategic forefront of defending democratic institutions,” Wu said.

“I believe that through the close connection of shared values, the two countries’ peoples can work together to play a positive role in the international community and contribute to world peace, stability and prosperity.”

The United States welcomed the move, with its de facto embassy in Taiwan saying: “All countries should be free to pursue closer ties and greater cooperation with Taiwan, a leading democracy​, a major economy, and a force for good in the world”.

Only 15 countries have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but many others have de facto embassies which are often termed trade offices, as is the case for the European Union, of which Lithuania is a member state.

China has ramped up pressure on countries not to engage with Taiwan.

In February, the South American country of Guyana revoked a deal for Taiwan to open a representative office there only a day after Taipei had announced it. Taiwan blamed Chinese “bullying” for the decision.

Lithuania has been sceptical of other aspects of Beijing’s policies, and appeared to signal its concerns by only sending its transport minister, rather than a government leader, to a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping and central and eastern European countries in February. – Reuters