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UPDATE 3-Lithuania to open trade office in Taiwan, upsetting China

(Recasts, adds China, Taiwan government comments, details)

VILNIUS, March 4 (Reuters) - Lithuania said it would open a trade representative office this year in Taiwan, which China considers its own territory, prompting anger in Beijing.

The office will aim to boost economic diplomacy in Asia, the spokeswoman of Lithuania’s Economic and Innovation Ministry told Reuters on Wednesday.

Responding to the announcement, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Beijing firmly opposed Lithuania setting up an official institution in Taiwan or “engaging in any form of official contact”.

“There is only one China in the world,” he told a daily news briefing in Beijing on Thursday.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said it had no information on the matter but that it welcomed any move that strengthened bilateral relations.

Only 14 countries have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but many others have de facto embassies which are often termed trade offices, as is the case for the European Union, of which Lithuania is a member state.

Separately, a Lithuanian foreign ministry spokeswoman said Vilnius would prefer direct or EU-led economic ties with China over participating in a Beijing-led “17+1” grouping with Central European countries.

The grouping of 12 EU members and five Western Balkan states which aspire to join the EU is key to China’s Belt and Road Initiative to re-create the old Silk Road.

But the initiative has fuelled concern in western European capitals that Beijing is seeking to divide the continent.

“It is not an international organisation, it has no membership, so we are not talking about joining it or about leaving it,” said the foreign ministry spokeswoman, Vytaute Smaizyte.

“In our opinion, the economic initiative did not bring the expected result to Lithuania, so we plan to concentrate on developing our economic relationship with China bilaterally, and within the framework of EU and China cooperation,” she added.

Lithuania sent only its transport minister and Estonia its foreign minister, rather than government leaders, to a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping last month, out of apparent concern over Chinese policies. (Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Clarence Fernandez and Gareth Jones)

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