China has decided to downgrade its diplomatic ties with Lithuania in opposition to Taiwan's recent opening of its representative office in the European country, the Foreign Ministry said Sunday.
The ministry said in a statement that China's relations with Lithuania would be downgraded to the "charge d'affaires level," a rung below ambassador, adding that the country "grossly interferes in China's internal affairs."
The Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania that opened Thursday, whose responsibilities include consular affairs, is the first in Europe under the island's own name. The office is under the administration of Taiwan's diplomatic mission in Latvia, which is also responsible for Estonian affairs.
Lithuania is the first of the three Baltic states to establish a trade office in Taiwan.
China was infuriated last July when Taiwan and Lithuania announced they had agreed to open representative offices in each other's capital and that Taiwan would be allowed to use its own name instead of that of its capital, Taipei.
The office in Vilnius will be the first of its kind in Europe under Taiwan's name and its second representative office in Europe. The first opened in Slovakia in 2003, also under the name Taipei.
The Vatican is the only European state with which Taiwan has diplomatic relations.
The warming of ties between Taiwan and Lithuania led China to withdraw its ambassador and urge the Baltic state to do likewise. Lithuania still recognizes only mainland China diplomatically.
After Taiwan's office opened, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters on Friday that the Asian power would "take all necessary measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity."