China downgraded diplomatic ties with Lithuania to the level of charge d'affaires on Sunday, China's state-owned broadcaster CCTV said in a statement.
This was a response to self-governed Taiwan opening a representative office in Lithuania's capital Vilnius two days earlier, CCTV explained in a post on Chinese social media platform Weibo.
"The Chinese government had to lower diplomatic relations between the two countries... to safeguard its sovereignty and the basic norms of international relations," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "The Lithuanian government must bear all consequences that arise from this," the ministry stated.
Why has China downgraded diplomatic ties with Lithuania?
Beijing views self-governed Taiwan as a Chinese province and vows to reunify it with the mainland, even by force if necessary. Under its "One China" policy, Beijing wants countries to officially recognize the Chinese government over that of Taiwan and break formal political ties with the island.
The Foreign Ministry's statement said that setting up the office in Lithuania "blatantly creates 'one China, one Taiwan'" which is not permitted under Chinese diplomacy.
Lithuania "regrettably" ignored the position of the Chinese government by allowing a representative office in the country under the name of Taiwan, the statement added.
Other Taiwan offices in Europe and the United States use the name of the city Taipei, avoiding a reference to the island itself.
This created a "bad precedent," the statement continued, adding that Lithuania had "destroyed" the political foundation of neutrality needed to "establish diplomatic relations at an ambassadorial level."
The statement called on Lithuania to "immediately correct its mistake" and not underestimate China's will and ability "to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity."
The statement added that Taiwan "has never been a country."
Vilnius 'regrets' China's decision
Lithuania said it "regrets" China's decision to downgrade diplomatic relations.
"Lithuania reaffirms its adherence to the 'One China' policy, but at the same time has the right to expand cooperation with Taiwan," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Relations between Vilnius and Beijing have been on shaky ground for some time. In May, Lithuania left China's 17+1 cooperation forum and called on other EU member states to do the same, calling it divisive while at the same time calling for more unity in the bloc.
kb, kmm/sri (AFP, Reuters, dpa)