Foreign diplomats helped Lithuania evacuate staff from China

Milda Seputyte

Diplomats from European Union member states and other countries helped their Lithuanian colleagues evacuate their embassy and leave China last week in an unexpected departure after Beijing demanded the return of their passes.

Lithuania pulled out its remaining four diplomats, one technical embassy employee, their families and a cat on short notice on Dec. 15, a day after the deadline given by the Chinese Foreign Ministry demanding the return of the envoys' diplomatic identification cards, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said. 

The Lithuanian Embassy is seen in Beijing, Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. Lithuania said Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021, that it has closed its embassy in Beijing and pulled its last diplomat out of the Chinese capital, a move that came amid a spat over the EU nation allowing Taiwan to open a representative office in its capital, Vilnius.

The embassy staff was notified a week earlier about the looming expiration of their IDs along with a demand from China that the embassy's name be changed to the Office of the Charge d'Affaires, an effective downgrade of its diplomatic status.

Uncertain over how the new status may impact the staff, Lithuania decided to pull all of its personnel from China, leaving the embassy empty and working remotely. 

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn't immediately respond to a request for comment after regular working hours. China gave assurances last week that the diplomats' safety was not in question and the Lithuanians would have had new cards issued. 

Tensions between China and Lithuania have soured since Taiwan opened a representative office in Vilnius last month, a move Beijing deems a violation of its one-China principle. 

China earlier downgraded diplomatic ties with Lithuania, recalled its ambassador and allegedly stopped clearing Lithuanian exports, prompting the EU to raise the dispute with the World Trade Organization. The Chinese state-backed media outlet Global Times has denied there are any trade disruptions.