The European Union has angered China by launching a case against Beijing at the World Trade Organization (WTO) for targeting Lithuania over its stance on Taiwan.
Thursday’s move by Brussels was a further deterioration in ties between China and the bloc, with a long-negotiated investment deal already on the rocks after both sides exchanged tit-for-tat sanctions.
The latest spat is over Lithuania, one of the smallest countries in the EU, which made waves in July when it allowed Taiwan to open a diplomatic outpost in Vilnius.
The move outraged Beijing, which does not recognise Taiwan as a state and considers the self-ruled democratic island a rebellious territory of the mainland.
“Launching a WTO case is not a step we take lightly,” EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said in a statement.
“However, after repeated failed attempts to resolve the issue bilaterally, we see no other way forward than to request WTO dispute settlement consultations with China,” he added.
By going to the WTO, the EU lent support to accusations by Lithuanian business leaders and officials that the dispute has resulted in China blocking imports from Lithuania and other economic restrictions.
WTO arbitration is a slow-moving process, however, and any result could take years to come.
Beijing responded harshly to the move, calling the “so-called” Chinese coercion against Lithuania “groundless and inconsistent”.
“The issue between China and Lithuania is a political one, not an economic one,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.