China has suspended imports of beef from Lithuania since Wednesday, the General Administration of Customs announced amid a growing trade spat with the Baltic nation and its Western allies centered on Chinese-claimed Taiwan.
The agency typically halts imports of meat if exporting nations report outbreaks of disease in livestock. Lithuania has not reported any animal disease to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) recently.
The move comes, however, after Britain said on Monday it will join the United States and Australia in backing a European Union trade case against China at the World Trade Organization over Beijing's alleged trade curbs on Lithuania.
The European Commission says Lithuanian exports to China fell 91% in December compared to the same month in 2020.
Lithuania allowed Taiwan to open a de facto embassy in its capital Vilnius last year, angering Beijing which regards the self-governed island as its own territory.
Lithuania broke with diplomatic custom by agreeing that the Taiwanese office in Vilnius would bear the name Taiwan instead of Chinese Taipei, a term used by other countries to avoid offending Beijing.
Beijing expelled the Lithuanian ambassador and withdrew its own ambassador. In December, Lithuania closed its embassy in the Chinese capital. Tensions have mounted and Lithuania accuses Beijing of holding up goods at China’s borders.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian declined to elaborate on the beef suspension but said Lithuania should correct its mistakes.
"What Lithuania should do is face up the facts, redress its own mistakes, and come back to the right track of adhering to the one-China principle, instead of confusing right with wrong," Zhao said, referring to China's policy demanding countries recognize Taiwan belongs to it.
Taiwan's Foreign Ministry condemned the latest Chinese move, which is called "unilateral," "bullying" and the latest example of Beijing trying to change Lithuania's foreign policy.
"We firmly stand together with Lithuania," ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou told reporters.
China is the world's top importer of beef but shipments from Lithuania are minimal. China imported just 775 tons of beef from Lithuania in 2021, out of a total of 2.36 million tons of beef imports that year, according to Chinese customs data.
Taiwan has stepped up its food imports from Lithuania to help ease the impact of Chinese curbs, most recently rum. Taiwan also announced on Jan. 5 that it will set up a fund with $200 million to invest in Lithuania as businesses in the European country complain of losses from the row between China and Lithuania.
The first batch of 1,200 bottles sold out in less than an hour after going on sale this month.