In a world where courage is in short supply, Lithuania stands out. The tiny Baltic country of 2.8 million people bordering Russia is standing up to both its big neighbor and Communist China with surprising results.
It is determined not to be occupied again despite great challenges. To this effect, Lithuania has accepted the risk of stationing 4,000 NATO troops on its soil to deter any Russian aggression. It has defied the threats of China to crush it economically.
The Struggle for Independence
Lithuania learned the value of courage when it earned its independence. After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, Russia opposed and prevented Lithuanian independence from the former Soviet Union. When the nation declared independence, it waited in vain for Western countries to recognize it.
During this fight for recognition, the Societies for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) demonstrated Western support by collecting 5,212,580 signatures calling for Lithuanian independence—a world record.
This Russian opposition to Lithuania’s freedom culminated with then-president Mikhail Gorbachev’s sending in tanks on January 13, 1991. Their treads crushed unarmed protesters to death in the capital city of Vilnius. The incident resulted in the death of 14 brave Lithuanians but also triggered the nation’s resolve and eventual independence. Heartened by the petition of support, the tiny David prevailed over the Russian Goliath and entered into the ranks of free nations.
Determined never to fall again, Lithuania has been a pillar of support for Ukraine. The people know their country might be next if Russia prevails in Ukraine. As a member of NATO, Lithuania is doing everything possible to support the war effort despite intimidation by its belligerent neighbor. Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Finland now form the front line in resisting Russia. It takes courage because the threat is so close.
Standing Up to China
Standing up to Russia makes sense, given Lithuania’s precarious position. However, the Baltic nation has also impressed Europe and the world by taking a strong stance against Communist China, which is halfway around the globe. It takes great courage since China dominates supply chains and trade in many fields.
Lithuania’s confrontation with China began in November 2021 when its government authorized a Taiwan Representative Office in Vilnius. The office was meant to serve as a de facto embassy for the Taiwanese government. Many such offices exist around the world to facilitate trade with this most important technology giant.
Lithuania’s sin was to name the office using the term “Taiwan.” The Communist Chinese government does not recognize the term since it insinuates that the island is not part of China. It insists on using Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, to affirm its One-China policy. Even superpower America kowtows to this designation.
China’s Swift Reaction
When Lithuania insisted Taiwan had a right to a national identity outside the One-China policy, the Chinese government’s reaction was swift, vengeful and total.
China ceased all trade with Lithuania, effective immediately. The communist government recalled its ambassador in protest from Vilnius and expelled the Lithuanian ambassador from Beijing. The shock of the Chinese trade embargo was immense. In a globalized world, instantly decoupling from China is a significant blow to any economy. Lithuanian businesses experienced major shock and stress as they scrambled to find alternatives to Chinese-made goods.
China has never reacted to opposition with something of this scope. Lithuania was meant to be a lesson to all who dared to cross Chinese hegemony. Even Western nations urged the Lithuanians not to rock the boat of international cooperation so carefully developed over the years.
The Embargo Backfires
The embargo sought to intimidate by leaving Lithuania suddenly without many resources and supply chain components. However, the nation soon found that others were watching and ready to come to its aid.
Australia, Japan and South Korea opened their ports to ships that could no longer dock in China. Trade with others in the Pacific grew by 40 percent. Lithuania developed such a booming trade relationship with Singapore that it opened an embassy there.
Nations seemed inspired, not intimidated, by the bold stance of the little David nation on the Baltic Sea. Because of the Lithuanian resistance, the European Union agreed to allow trade retaliation against countries that use punitive sanctions against its member states.
To capitalize on trade opportunities in Eastern European nations, China set up a forum called 17+1. It was designed to maximize Chinese influence in the region. Lithuania left the forum after the Chinese embargo.
China’s harsh treatment of Lithuania prompted Latvia and Estonia to follow suit and leave what is now called the 14+1 forum. Other Eastern European countries are now skeptical about its future. The Czech foreign minister recently claimed that “the 14+1 has neither substance nor future.” The Czechs further defied China by sending a 150-member parliamentary delegation to Taiwan. They even arranged a major arms deal with the Taiwanese.
The Value of Standing Up
Beijing’s bullying offensive failed, and China has walked back its sanctions and reestablished full trade relations with Lithuania while keeping its ambassador home. The contagiousness of Lithuania’s principled example has forced China into damage control mode.
On the other hand, Lithuania’s acceptance of 4,000 NATO troops has established the tiny nation as a significant player in the shifting geopolitics of the region.
Lithuania is an example for the world because of its principled willingness to resist might-is-right politics. It shows that even the smallest nations, armed with great courage and resolve, can stand up to two world powers and still thrive.
Photo Credit: © krivinis – stock.adobe.com