'Wide support' for Taiwan policy in Lithuania: lawmaker

Lithuania's decision to allow Taiwan to open a representative office under its own name infuriated China /AFP/File

A Lithuanian lawmaker visiting Taiwan said Monday there was "wide support" among the public in his country for warming relations with the island, after a row with China for allowing Taipei to open a de facto embassy in Vilnius.

Matas Maldeikis led a delegation of parliamentarians from Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia that arrived in Taiwan on Sunday, the latest in a recent string of visits by foreign politicians despite Beijing's opposition.

China claims sovereignty over self-ruled democratic Taiwan and vows to re-take it one day, by force if necessary.

It has become increasingly bellicose towards Taiwan since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, who rejects its stance that the island is part of Chinese territory.

Lithuania is among a group of Baltic and Central European countries that are seeking closer ties with Taiwan, even if that angers Beijing.

In May, Lithuania announced it was quitting China's 17+1 cooperation forum with Central and Eastern European states, calling it "divisive".

Lithuania's decision to allow Taiwan to open a representative office under its own name further infuriated China, which downgraded diplomatic ties with the country this month.

Beijing baulks at any use of the word "Taiwan", or any references to the island as a "country" and diplomatic gestures that might lend a sense of international legitimacy to the island.

"Lithuanian government policy toward Taiwan has wide support in our society," said Maldeikis when meeting Tsai.

"There are a lot of opportunities for economic and cultural cooperation between our countries," he said.

"A long-term stable and efficient cooperation is possible precisely because our societies are based on the same principles of democracy, human rights and rule of law."

He hopes Vilnius's soon-to-be-opened trade office in Taipei will help strengthen bilateral ties and contribute to closer relations between Taiwan and the European Union.

Beijing on Monday condemned the visit by Baltic lawmakers and said those who "damage China's sovereignty will inevitably pay a due price".

On Sunday, China sent 27 warplanes into Taiwan's air defence identification zone, the same day as the Baltic delegation was arriving and after a second delegation of US lawmakers visited the island this month.

Beijing has ramped up military activities near Taiwan in recent years, with a record number of aircraft intruding into the zone in early October.

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