Lithuania says EU should scrap summit with China

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European Union and Lithuanian flags flutter at border crossing point in Medininkai, Lithuania September 18, 2020. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

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WASHINGTON, March 16 (Reuters) - A planned summit between China and the European Union should be canceled until Beijing shows whether it stands with Russia or the West over the conflict in Ukraine, a senior Lithuanian official said on Wednesday.

The 27-nation EU, of which Lithuania is a member, has said it plans to hold the top-level, likely virtual, meeting with China on April 1 to diffuse growing tensions between the two sides, but Lithuanian vice foreign minister Mantas Adomenas told Reuters that it was "not the time for normalization." read more

"In our assessment it is very ill-timed. In view of recent developments, it should be called off, or at least postponed significantly until we see which side China is on," Adomenas said in an interview during a visit to Washington.

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"It is the time to show China that we mean business – that they cannot expect to occupy this ambiguous role, on one hand supporting Russia, on one hand using trading opportunities with the West – European Union, and expect no consequences," he said.

But Adomenas said Lithuania, a former Soviet republic concerned about Moscow's broader intentions, had "a lot of persuasion to do" to convince other EU members that the summit should not go ahead.

The EU regards China as a strategic rival in some areas, but seeks to encourage Beijing to reform trade rules at the World Trade Organization, even as it has imposed sanctions on some members of the European Parliament and punishes Lithuania over its move to allow Taiwan to open a de facto embassy.

U.S. officials have told China that it will face consequences, including secondary sanctions, if Beijing provides Russia with material military or economic support in the Ukraine war, which Moscow calls a "special military operation."

China and Russia announced an upgraded "no limits" strategic partnership just weeks before the conflict began, and Beijing has refused to term Moscow's actions an invasion, although Chinese leader Xi Jinping has called for "maximum restraint".

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday called on China to condemn Russia's invasion. read more

Adomenas, in Washington for meetings with U.S. officials, said China was not an "honest broker," and couldn't be relied on to help mediate a solution to the crisis, as Beijing has signaled. read more

"Certainly, if China joins in any way facilitating Russia's military effort, assisting its military, there ought to be sanctions. We will be arguing for it," he said, adding that there was a lot more that the West could do to support Ukraine.

NATO could provide protection for humanitarian convoys and set up "safe zones," Adomenas said, without elaborating, and added that the West should send Ukraine more sophisticated weapons such as U.S. Patriot surface-to-air missile defense systems.

More Russian oligarchs and their family members needed to be sanctioned, Adomenas said, adding that Europe should also consider an oil embargo on Russia.

"Europe can resupply itself with oil from other sources. This is the kind of lifeline that finances the war," he said.

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Reporting by Michael Martina and Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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