During his visit to Washington in late November, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis pointed out that “the biggest lesson out of Lithuania is that economic coercion does not necessarily mean that the country needs to step away from independent foreign-policy decisions.”
“Probably you’ll be threatened. You’ll be shouted at in the headlines in Chinese media, but nonetheless, you can withstand that,” he added. “I have to say that the only weakness of democracies is not being able to help each other.”
Indeed, Lithuania has been charting a new, revised course in terms of its relationship with China. Few nations have dared to challenge China as has Lithuania, one of the smallest European Union nations but punching above its weight.
In May, Lithuania dropped out of the so-called “17+1” platform, Beijing’s decade-old initiative through which China has sought to exert its diplomatic and economic influence on countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
Landsbergis made it clear that “there is no such thing as ‘17+1’ anymore, as for practical purposes, Lithuania is out,” urging other EU countries to follow suit.
Also notable is that in September, after a Lithuanian government investigation found risks to personal data security, the Baltic country advised its citizens to discard their Chinese smartphones as soon as possible.
More recently, taking even one step further than the United States, Lithuania allowed Taiwan to open a de facto embassy in its capital, Vilnius, with the official name of the Taiwanese Representative Office.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, these concrete actions by Lithuania have irked Beijing quite measurably, leading China to demote both diplomatic and economic ties with the country, one of America’s key allies in the Baltics.
Lithuania stands firm with the values of free market democracy, and it’s imperative for Washington to show the strongest possible support of its Baltic ally.
The Baltic nation has been an important U.S. partner, an effective advocate of political freedom, a strong supporter of NATO, and a committed investor in defense capabilities.
On the economic front, although uncertainty lingers, the Lithuanian economy has benefited from its high degree of resiliency built up over the past 25 years.
According to The Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom, which compares the entrepreneurial frameworks of countries around the globe, Lithuania’s economic freedom score has risen significantly over time and is now well above the regional and world averages. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
Lithuania’s ongoing transition from a onetime Soviet satellite state to a more vibrant and market-oriented economy has been facilitated by openness to foreign trade and the efficiency of business regulations that promote entrepreneurial dynamism. Also notable is that Lithuania is a vital partner of the United States in the context of the Three Seas Initiative, which was launched in 2016 to facilitate greater development and connectivity among 12 European Union countries around and between the Baltic, Black, and Adriatic seas.
From a broader geopolitical perspective, the known adversaries of free-market democracies, such as China and Russia, will seek to divide the United States from its like-minded allies and sow division through disinformation, and to exacerbate uncertainty.
They must not be allowed to do so.
History reminds us that allies and partners are critical to defeating enemies and winning any global fight. In fact, the value of democratic alliances must be most evident and welcome in times of growing tests, particularly as U.S. policymakers and other like-minded partners around the world focus on the challenges China poses more than ever.
The months ahead are the time for Washington and its trans-Atlantic partners like Lithuania to stand strong and steadfast and to gear up for a new era of cooperation confronting challenges.
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