No matter which side you support, it’s intriguing why the Baltic state of 2.8 million should stick its neck out amid growing tensions between the West and China.
One common interpretation in China is that it’s a ploy of the United States. Washington wants to test how far the West can push on Taiwan over the dangerous questions of sovereignty and independence. So it puts poor Lithuania up for the test. Beijing can retaliate, as it is doing now, but it would be against a minor friendly country in which Washington has no core interests.
While I don’t dismiss this theory offhand, I think it takes away agency from small states as mere playthings of the great powers. Rather, the new spat is a growing sign that China’s appeal across central Europe and the Baltic is fraying.
It may seem like a paradox but China may actually have less clout over those small states than over the European Union and the United States. For one thing, they are not exposed in their military, geopolitical, economic and commercial interests to China like the EU and the US.
They may crave a bigger slice of the potentially huge market in China, but their existing economic exposure is limited. Their real ties, in trade and defence, are with the EU and North America. For example, China is only Lithuania’s 12th largest trading partner.
The smaller European states may be leading the EU over China, not the other way around.