“We count on India’s strong unwavering commitment to the rules-based order and its dedication to fostering dialogue and cooperation,” says Lithuania’s vice-minister of foreign affairs Egidijus Meilunas. Speaking to ET Online, he discusses a range of foreign policy issues including the Russia-Ukraine war, Israel-Hamas standoff and Lithuania’s views on China.
In November 2021, Lithuania – a tiny Baltic country with a population of 2.7 million – picked up a fight with China when it allowed Taiwan to open a de-facto embassy in its capital Vilnius. Since then, China has downgraded its diplomatic relationship with the nation and has blocked most of its trade over what it calls a violation of the ‘One China’ policy.
Interestingly, India and Lithuania’s trade and diplomatic relations are on an upswing.
Egidijus Meilunas, vice-minister of foreign affairs of Lithuania, was in New Delhi last week for Foreign Office Consultations (FOC) with India. During the meeting, both sides reviewed bilateral engagements and exchanged views on regional and global issues of mutual interest, including developments in respective neighbourhoods, EU, Ukraine conflict, India’s Presidency of G20, cooperation in multilateral fora, and UNSC reforms.
Meilunas also participated in the second CII India-Nordic-Baltic Business Conclave and spoke exclusively to Economic Times online on a range of foreign policy issues. Below are the edited excerpts.
What is your view on China’s expansionist Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and what are the western countries doing to counter it, which has been under an eye of a storm due to its debt policies?
Under current geopolitical circumstances, the EU’s Global Gateway and other like-minded connectivity initiatives, such as the G7 PGII (partnership for global infrastructure and investment) acquire a particular importance and could serve as a good tool to try to win hearts and minds of the Global South, prone to opaque influences of other global actors, such as China’s BRI.
Indeed, it is important to underline that EU’s Global Gateway is a qualitatively attractive alternative if compared to other public infrastructure investment offers in the world. It is a transparent, market-rules based good value for money option to our partners across the globe and particularly in the developing world, keen to improve their infrastructure, perform green and digital transition and achieve SDG’s. Global Gateway is an offer to developing countries that is very hard to refuse in view of its transformative effect, quality, and sustainability.
The Global Gateway has a great potential of projecting EU’s positive, concrete and result-oriented approach. It is closely coordinated with connectivity efforts of other like-minded partners, especially in G7 framework. Some important first flagship projects of the Global Gateway were launched this year and the pace and scope of this initiative will grow bigger and stronger as we will be entering the second year of its implementation in 2024 (with some projects on sustainable urbanisation and mobility solutions offered also to India).
“India has a prominent role to play in our strategy. We want to foster our bilateral cooperation from economic, political to cultural and people-to-people contacts.” — Egidijus Meilunas
For Lithuania what matters in terms of projection of those European connectivity efforts is also the strengthening of such emerging supply chains as the Middle Corridor (across the Black Sea, Caucasus and Central Asia) but also the newly established IMEEC (India, Middle East, Europe Economic Corridor), which was announced at the G7 meeting in India in September this year. In our view, those two corridors not only have the potential of bolstering economic development and fostering connectivity and economic integration between Asia and Europe, but they also offer a genuine alternative to the Northern trade corridor across Russia, which in European view, lost its credibility and validity after the unprovoked and despicable Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Let me also draw your attention to the fact that Lithuania and Central Europe in general have established their own like-minded connectivity platform, called the Three Seas initiative, which is an indigenous central European alternative to such interferences from outside as the 14+1 format brought by China in the context of BRI. The beauty of the Three Seas Initiative is that serves a natural geographic entry point to the Single European market for the above-mentioned supply chains coming to Europe through Middle corridor or India-Middle East-Europe corridor. Therefore, we invite India to closely cooperate with our region also through this platform.
Can you share more details about Lithuania’s new Indo-Pacific strategy that highlights the need to engage with the region for a secure, resilient, and prosperous future. How crucial do you think India is to this strategy?
Lithuania’s government adopted and released its Indo-Pacific strategy: “For a secure, resilient and prosperous future,” giving a blueprint and a strong impetus to our country’s further engagement in the region. Over the last couple of years, Lithuania has shaped its foreign policy decisions to widen and embed its diplomatic footprint in the Indo-Pacific, where we see numerous cooperation opportunities. In elaborating this strategy, we took a closer look at both our own strengths and priorities and needs and interests of different state actors and other partners in the Indo-Pacific. We identified three main areas of cooperation: