(Corrects paragraphs 1,4 to remove erroneous references to withdrawal from Chinese-led grouping)
VILNIUS, March 3 (Reuters) - Lithuania will open a trade representation office this year in Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province, a move that is bound to anger the Asian giant.
The office will be opened in a bid to boost economic diplomacy in Asia, the spokeswoman of the Economic and Innovation Ministry told Reuters on Wednesday.
Few countries have embassies in Taiwan, but several, including the European Union and some of its members, hold representative and trade offices on the island instead.
In a separate move, Lithuania would also prefer direct or European Union-led economic ties to participating in a China-led “17+1” grouping with Central European countries, the spokeswoman added.
The area of the 12 European Union members and five Western Balkan states which aspire to join the bloc is key to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
This effort aims to link China by sea and land with southeast and central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, through an infrastructure network on the lines of the old Silk Road.
But the courting by China has fuelled concern in Western European capitals that Beijing is seeking to divide the continent, and prompted complaints about its push for control of joint investment projects.
“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,” the spokeswoman, Vytaute Smaizyte, told Reuters on Wednesday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping last month at a virtual summit pledged to import goods worth more than $170 billion from the region in the next five years, doubling its purchases of agricultural products.
Lithuania sent only its transport minister and Estonia its foreign minister, rather than government leaders, to the summit, chaired by Xi, out of apparent concern over Chinese policies.
Taiwan thanked the EU member in November, as its new ruling coalition committed to support “those fighting for freedom” in Taiwan. (Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Clarence Fernandez)
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