China Disinformation Campaign: Has Brussels Bowed to Chinese Pressure?

Written by | Monday, May 4th, 2020

The European External Action Service (EEAS), which has recently published a report about how China and Russia are increasing their disinformation campaigns across Europe, has denied media reports that it watered down allegations made against China as part of a report into state-led disinformation campaigns, following pressure from Beijing. Since the outbreak of the virus in China, the government in Beijing has run a massive campaign of disinformation and intimidation, with the international community accusing China of covering up or delaying crucial facts about the pandemic. The EU has been a target of disinformation campaigns even before the start of the pandemic, which were mostly carried out by Russia and domestic nationalist actors. However, since the coronavirus outbreak, foreign malign influencers, including China, have upped their game.
Speaking at a specially convened meeting of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell rejected allegations that a report on Chinese disinformation and the global coronavirus pandemic was watered down in response to pressure from Beijing, but some MEPs remain unconvinced. “We have not bowed to anyone,” Borrell, a former Spanish foreign minister, insisted, adding that “There was no watering down of our findings, however uncomfortable it could be.” A brewing row deepened last week after the New York Times reported that EU officials had delayed, and then rewritten, a report after China tried to block its release. “The Chinese are already threatening with reactions if the report comes out,” a senior official told colleagues in an email seen by the paper.
These latest accusations come against the background of a general suspicion towards Beijing’s intentions since the start of the crisis. Just ahead of the leak of the China’s alleged blackmail, V?ra Jourová, the Vice-President of the European Commission, chided the EU for what she said was its “morbid dependency” on China and India for medical supplies.After surviving its own coronavirus ordeal, Beijing has found itself in the unique position of a country able and willing to help all those who need help and has stepped up ‘mask diplomacy’ efforts to send equipment and experts to Europe. Moreover, as the continent enters a pandemic-induced recession, officials in Brussels and capital cities all across Europe are bracing for another possible wave of strategic takeovers and acquisitions by Chinese companies, much like the one in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, as asset prices around the world have taken a huge beating. EU’s competition chief Margrethe Vestager only recently warned that European governments should buy stakes in key companies to prevent a Chinese buying spree.

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