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In July last year, the tiny European state of Lithuania announced the opening of a Taiwanese representative office in its capital, Vilnius.

To the casual observer, the statement may have seemed unremarkable.

To China, it was an intolerable declaration of diplomatic hostility.

When the office opened last November, it was the first time a European Union member state had let Taiwan use its own name for a foreign outpost.

Image source, Getty Images

That touched a nerve in China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, even though the island has long seen itself as a self-governed democratic state.

To avoid offending China, most countries eschew official relations with Taiwan and recognise its representative office under

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