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Vilnius [Lithuania], March 5 (ANI): In a sharp blow to China, Lithuania has announced that it will establish a representative trade office in Taiwan and signalled it is mulling to leaving "171", an informal trade group of Beijing and 17 Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries.

According to South China Morning Post, Lithuania's foreign ministry this week confirmed that it hoped to have an "enterprise office" established in Taiwan this year.

Lithuania's Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis also said the country was edging closer to leaving the "171", an informal trade group of China and 17 CEE countries founded in 2012.

He told local news outlet LRT.lt that Lithuania gets "almost no benefits" from the group and that it served to "divide" Europe.

His remarks have drawn a sharp reaction from China, which consider Taiwan as a breakaway province.

At a press conference in Beijing on Thursday, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin urged Vilnius to "refuse to be taken advantage of by Taiwan separatist forces and avoid doing anything detrimental to bilateral political mutual trust".

"We are firmly against the mutual establishment of official agencies and official exchanges in all forms between the Taiwan region and countries having diplomatic relations with China including Lithuania," Wang said, after authorities in Lithuania confirmed a plan to establish an office by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Taiwan has welcomed Lithuania's plans to open a branch in Taipei. "We have noticed the reports about this and we welcome any move or plan that would deepen our friendly relations with Lithuania," said Joanne Ou, the ministry's spokeswoman. "Regarding Lithuania's reported plan to establish a representative office in Taiwan, we do not have additional information at the moment."The Baltic nation has been steadily improving ties with Taiwan over the past couple of years, including lending support to the island's bid to be an observer at the World Health Organization, a move rejected by China.

Taiwan's former highest representative to the Balkans, Andy Chin, was invited to address the country's parliament on the same day as President Gitanas Nauseda's state-of-the-nation speech.

Chin told the South China Morning Post that he "was very happy to learn that Lithuania is interested in setting up trade office in Taipei", adding that it would "greatly enhance and advance bilateral ties".

China has been critical to the countries trying to establish relations or deepening ties with Taiwan, saying there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.

Last month, Guyana terminated an agreement with Taiwan to open a representative office in the South American nation after China called the accord a "mistake".

In a statement, Guyana foreign ministry had said the government continues to adhere to the one-China policy, Chinese state media CGTN reported. (ANI)

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