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UPDATE 1-China sanctions Lithuanian deputy minister for visiting Taiwan

(Adds details and background)

By Yew Lun Tian

BEIJING, Aug 12 (Reuters) - China's foreign ministry said on Friday it had imposed sanctions on Lithuanian Deputy Transport and Communications Minister Agne Vaiciukeviciute for visiting Taiwan, the latest development in a simmering diplomatic row with the European Union country.

The foreign ministry said Beijing would also suspend engagement with Vaiciukeviciute's ministry and cooperation on transportation with Lithuania, a small Baltic republic.

Lithuania's Ministry of Transport and Communications said it had received no official information regarding the matter and declined to comment further.

China claims self-ruled Taiwan as its territory and is against foreign politicians visiting the island. Democratically governed Taiwan rejects China's claim.

Lithuania's recent bolstering of relations with Taiwan has infuriated Beijing and led to a fall in Lithuanian exports to China in the first quarter of this year to almost zero.

Vaiciukeviciute said on Twitter on Friday that she had visited three cities and two seaports and had 14 meetings in Taiwan over a five-day period.

"A productive week in Taiwan, looking for more ways of LT Transport cooperation with TW maritime, shipping and aviation companies," she tweeted, referring to Lithuania and Taiwan by their abbreviations.

Vaiciukeviciute visited Taiwan days after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In response to Pelosi's visit, China launched massive military drills around Taiwan, slapped sanctions on Pelosi and trade restrictions with Taiwan.

When Lithuanian Vice Minister of the Economy and Innovation Jovita Neliupsiene visited Taipei in June, she said Lithuania planned to open a representative office in Taiwan in September.

Lithuania has come under sustained Chinese pressure to reverse a decision last year to allow Taiwan to open a de facto embassy in the capital Vilnius under its own name.

China has downgraded diplomatic relations with Lithuania and pressured multinationals to sever ties with it.

In January, the European Union launched a challenge at the World Trade Organization accusing China of discriminatory trade practices against Lithuania and arguing that this threatened the integrity of the EU’s single market.

China said that it has always abided by WTO rules and that its problem with Lithuania is political, not economic, in nature. (Reporting by Yew Lun Tian, additional reporting by Augustas Stankevicius Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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