Lithuania withdraws from 17+1, calls on other countries to follow China’s CEE cooperation mechanism breaks chain

China’s halo in Europe is dimming as Lithuania officially announced its withdrawal from the 17+1 Cooperation on Saturday. Lithuania’s action could have a ripple effect.

Lithuania sees the 17+1 as a factor in China’s “splitting” of the European Union amid souring relations between the 27 EU countries and China. Foreign Minister Lansbergs announced that Lithuania has decided not to attend the 17+1 summit.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Lansbergs said that the 17+1 cooperation structure constitutes a “divisive” factor, and he called on EU member states to deal with China in unison, and that 27+1 is the most effective format. He believes that “the strength and impact of the EU lies in unity”.

Lithuania, which joined the 17+1 in 2012, also called on other member states to withdraw from the cooperation mechanism.

On Thursday, the Baltic country’s parliament formally adopted a resolution that deemed Beijing’s “genocide” and “human holocaust” against Uighur Muslims. The Lithuanian parliament also called on the United Nations to organize a mission to Xinjiang to investigate the mass detention of Uighurs and asked the European Union to revise its relations with Beijing.

Lithuania has taken several initiatives in recent months that have infuriated Beijing: vetoing Chinese investments and opening commercial offices in Taiwan. The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a protest on March 4, “strongly opposing” Lithuania’s establishment of official offices in Taiwan.

In February, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia took the lead in lowering the level of participation in previous summits between China and Central and Eastern European countries, with the president and prime minister not attending the summits, but having ministers instead. Six countries responded. In the belief that ’17+1 is greater than 18,'” Xi said at the opening ceremony of the summit …… insist on the equality of all countries, large and small, to build and share together.” A commentary in the French newspaper Le Monde sarcastically stated that the outcome of the meeting seemed to be “17-6, less than 11.”

This is despite the unprecedented importance China attaches to the 17+1, with Communist Party President Xi Jinping personally presiding over the summit, which is usually chaired by Premier Li Keqiang. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has also been making frequent behind-the-scenes moves, hoping that leaders would attend to give Xi Jinping, who is hosting the video summit, face, but to no avail, as Xi Jinping personally hosted the summit with the lowest level of participation ever.

Media analysis here suggests that the 17+1, which was seen from the start by the EU as a mechanism to try to divide Europe, is now losing its initial aura. The Chinese have failed to deliver on their investment promises to the host countries, and trade has disproportionately benefited Beijing. China’s image has been further tarnished by the outbreak of the New Crown (a Chinese Communist virus). The CCP’s recent counter-sanctions against the EU over Uighur human rights have caused unprecedented damage to bilateral relations.

The European Parliament’s recent decision to freeze the ‘Europe-China Investment Agreement’ is another notable example of the apparent deterioration of bilateral relations.