Political groups within the European Parliament have expressed concerns over Chinese authorities pressuring the European External Action Service. Unofficial information suggests that because of Chinese influence a report on disinformation spread by sources linked to China has been softened. These Chinese sources continuously praise steps taken by Beijing in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic; Beijing, however, argues that it itself is the real victim of disinformation.
There are ongoing discussions in Brussels about the likelihood of the External Action Service having succumbed to pressure from China, but there is no official proof for this. On 24 April, the External Action Service published a report on the newest disinformation trends, but the report seems to be missing several facts concerning China’s role in disinformation. These facts were present in the draft of the document which was previously leaked to the media.
The European Commission’s spokesman Peter Stano categorically denies this, saying that the leaked document was meant for internal use. Stano also stressed that Brussels is not afraid of calling things by their real names. “Every person interested in the truth can look at our three reports, as well as other publications available on our website. There, you will see that we are systematically collecting and analyzing trends, campaigns and specific examples, along with the actors engaged in disinformation campaigns against the European Union. Therefore, I completely and utterly reject any suspicions that we are giving into some sort of external pressure,” Stano commented.
Many European countries are attempting to maintain a balance between the necessity to combat propaganda and maintain economic ties with China. On one hand, EU members do not want China actively interfering and launching its campaigns in the EU. On the other, Chinese economic influence and trade connections here are considerable.
The reality, however, is that China is doing everything in its power to sow confusion about Covid-19 and the real extent of the spread of the virus in China, in addition to questioning the actions of other countries. For instance, Beijing wants to simultaneously soft-pedal China’s responsibility regarding the unsuccessful initial reaction to the pandemic, and stress its aid to other countries gripped by the pandemic.
In its own controlled media outlets and social networks, China continues silencing local dissidents and actively emphasizing any information that reveals the incompetency of European leaders and their inability to handle the crisis as well as China did.
One of the loudest Chinese media outlets in April was the communist party’s English-language media Global Times, which called the US a primitive society:
“The US is the most powerful country and has the most abundant medical resources and the most advanced technology. It could also refer to China’s experience. But now, its daily deaths are around 2,000 and could peak at 4,000. This is completely beyond the Chinese imagination of the US. There is no reason for such mass deaths. The COVID-19 spread in the US is almost like that of a primitive society. It should not have been like this if the US had the slightest science and organization.”
Beijing also ridiculed the reactions and comments expressed by leaders of European countries regarding China’s activities, but China is much more cautious when it comes to Europe, because for the Chinese propaganda media the real easy target is Donald Trump and the US.
An excellent opportunity for China to polish its image manifested after Trump announced that the US will no longer fund the World Health Organization (WHO). China will now allocate additional 30 million USD for the WHO to help in the global fight against the coronavirus. This announcement by Trump can in no way be considered a wise step, as it allowed Beijing to strengthen its global positions. We should remind that China has already allocated additional 20 million USD for the WHO for the purpose already mentioned. Weirdly, Donald Trump is slandering Beijing and attempting to publicly discredit it for its inability to quickly respond to the virus, but at the same tame providing China with an ideal opportunity to present itself as much more competent than the US.
In December 2019, in the critical weeks after the initial outbreak of the pandemic, Chinese authorities misled the public, prevented crucial information from being published, detained whistleblowers, denied that the virus can be transmitted between humans despite the growing evidence of this being the case, destroyed the results of important medical research and allowed millions of people to come into contact with the virus which resulted in a global pandemic that could have in fact been averted. People from the Chinese provinces affected by the virus came to Europe to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve in southern Spain, skiing resorts in Italy, Paris, the UK and elsewhere around the globe – places where the virus spread the fastest causing the deaths of thousands of people.
We should note that officials of the Chinese Communist Party hid crucial evidence of the virus being transmitted between humans from WHO officials up until 31 December 2019. When the Chinese government told the WHO about the pandemic, the Chinese regime denied that the virus had been transmitted from person to person.
We can surely expect the EU taking strict measures against the officials within the External Action Service who have apparently been pressured by Chinese diplomats to soften the harshness of the report, but no one can currently tell how strict these measures will be. It is most likely that the External Action Service followed the year-long notion that the Kremlin’s disinformation activities are the ones that need the most reporting because they are more widespread, and this led to China being left out. However, European nations agree that China has launched and is currently launching disinformation campaigns aimed at justifying its lack of action in the initial stages of the pandemic, which as we know resulted in a global lockdown.
It is no surprise that China has exploited the global pandemic to satisfy its military ambitions as well by strengthening military influence in the conflict-ridden South China Sea, where in April it held military exercises along with stationing considerable military resources in the area.
*Konstantin Zigar is a Polish journalist and graduated from the Lomonosov Moscow State University as an historian.
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