Lithuania has always lived in a tough neighborhood. Having a Russian bear for a neighbor is not easy.

This small nation of 2.7 million people has punched above its weight as a democratic leader in the region. It was the first Soviet occupied state to declare independence and one of the first countries to give women the right to vote. In recent years, Lithuania has maintained these global distinctions — being a vocal advocate for Ukraine in the face of Russian occupation and standing up to “Europe’s Last Dictator” in neighboring Belarus.

Despite its incredible fortitude against the Russian bear, Lithuania faces a new wolf at the door. Angered by the opening of a new trade office with Taiwan, China has started to muscle Lithuania. In a recent meeting, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Landsbergis told me that China halted all trade with Lithuania, suspending freight rail to the country, and blocking export permits for Lithuanian agricultural and timber producers. China’s message was petty, but clear: don’t cross Beijing.  

Illinois soybean farmers can relate. After China raised tariffs on American agricultural products in retaliation for actions taken by former President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden and the Border Patrol: So good to have the ‘adults’ back in charge Lawmakers ask Air Force to ‘pause all actions’ on Space Command move Running against Trump is tried and true, but is Biden ‘mentally sharp’ enough for the job? MORE, Illinois soybean exports fell from $2.3 billion to $800 million.  

For years, China was seen as an aggressive mercantilist, only interested in profits regardless of politics. But that description is outdated, if it was ever true.

China in the 21st Century—led by Xi Jinping—proudly proclaims its diplomats will be “wolf warriors” who use economic pressure tactics around the globe to intimidate other countries and impose their will. From Vietnam to Japan, China’s economic coercion, coupled with increased security tensions in the South and East China Seas, shows no bounds in the region. But China’s fury doesn’t stop at its neighbors. China’s increasing influence — and bullying — extends to Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean. It will use economic coercion to impose its will on every country around the globe, unless we stand together to stop it.

Earlier this month, Australia’s foreign minister and defense minister told a bipartisan group of senators how the Chinese have pressured Australia. When the Aussies called for an independent investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, China retaliated by dramatically raising tariffs on Australian exports, such as wine and barley, reducing Chinese-Australian trade by $4 billion in the first half of 2021 alone.

What can we do to confront this global economic bully?

First, we must stand by our stalwart NATO allies like Lithuania and Australia, the latter a nation which fought side by side with the United States in every war since World War II. I helped create the Baltic Security Initiative to strengthen security assistance to Lithuania. And President BidenJoe BidenArizona Democrats, activists eye protential primary challenge to Sinema over Biden agenda, filibuster Biden and the Border Patrol: So good to have the ‘adults’ back in charge Dental coverage for Medicare recipients divides parties MORE also wisely met with the “quad” leaders of Australia, India, and Japan on last week to further strengthen our cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.  

Moreover, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States agreed to a security pact called “AUKUS” to strengthen our cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. This includes Australia agreeing to purchase new nuclear powered American-made submarines, which is the type of cooperation we need to counter Chinese aggression in the region.   

Second, we can help the countries in China’s crosshairs by encouraging other markets to work with the United States and other NATO allies for our mutual needs. Lithuania’s bilateral trade with China is relatively small, but the trade ban still squeezed Lithuania by depriving it of some intermediate goods. In fact, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how we need to build more secure and resilient supply chains instead of relying too heavily on China. 

Finally, we must insist on clear and transparent economic rules of international trade, so contracts are won based on product quality, instead of corrupt payouts or political retaliation. The U.S. missed an opportunity to establish better trading rules to compete with China when we walked away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. But we shouldn’t abandon the search for establishing more transparent trading rules and norms in the Pacific, including strong labor and environmental standards, which would act as a counterbalance to China. If the rules of the game are fair, American companies will win and generate good-paying jobs here at home.  

I believe that economic partnership, transparency, and shared values will triumph over “wolf warrior” economic coercion. Countries around the world value their right to make sovereign decisions, and they will not buckle under the pressure of aggressive Chinese retribution. It will take cooperation, strength, and diplomacy to keep the wolves from our door. The United States must lead the way.

 Durbin is the Senate majority whip.

Leave a Reply