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Beijing's propaganda in the corona crisis : How China wanted to silence criticism from the EU

Beijing has put pressure on the EU not to publish a critical report on China's disinformation in the corona crisis. The pressure has resulted in delays and changes to the report. But "the EU has not given in on the matter," says Reinhard Bütikofer, chairman of the European Parliament delegation to China, to the Tagesspiegel.

In doing so, he is rejecting corresponding allegations against the EU's External Action Service and its boss, Josep Borrell. "It was never an issue not to publish the report, how Beijing wanted to achieve that."

"China's behavior arouses rejection"

The international reporting on China's pressure and the EU's reactions to it has drawn the report even more attention and thus worked counter-productively for Beijing's goal of silencing criticism of China. “Coordinated disinformation mixed with intensive propaganda and centrally exercised censorship is nothing new in China, but the world has never seen such practices from Beijing as drastically as it is now during the Corona crisis,” says Bütikofer.

"But China is doing itself a disservice, because where transparency is needed, this behavior causes rejection and counter-reactions." The European Union also accuses China of "coordinated action" in the new version of Friday's report, "to take responsibility for." to blur the outbreak of the pandemic ”.

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Beijing uses "covert operations" to spread false information on social networks. It circumvents their rules and runs a global propaganda campaign. Among other things, China presents the situation in Europe as if it were helping the EU states more and more effectively in fighting the coronavirus than the EU Commission.

Two mitigations after Beijing's intervention

In the original version of the report, which was originally due to appear last Tuesday, the wording was still: "China is running a global disinformation campaign to cover up its guilt for the outbreak of the pandemic and to polish its international image."

The European External Action Service (EEAS) also deleted a passage from the report that China had falsely accused French politicians of making racist comments about the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The Ethiopian was considered China's preferred candidate when he was elected. Critics accuse him of a pro-Chinese stance in the pandemic.

The delay and change in the EU report received considerable international attention, for example in the “New York Times” and in the European edition of the online portal “Politico”.

China wants to appear as a global leader against Corona

The British media had previously accused China of buying advertising on social networks praising China's handling of the coronavirus and blackening Western governments for incompetence, claiming that their allegedly bumbling responses to the pandemic had increased the damage.

The goal is to portray Beijing as a "global leader" in the fight against the pandemic and to silence critical questions about the origin of the virus and its spread from China to the world.

Bart Groothuis, a liberal MEP from the Netherlands, is demanding a "formal and comprehensive explanation" from EU Foreign Affairs Representative Borrell as to why China achieved a weakening of the report that originally spoke of a global disinformation campaign on the spread of the coronavirus.

Bütikofer is more relaxed about it. "The report published by the Foreign Service EEAS is very critical of China," says Bütikofer. “Some would have preferred a harder choice of words. But China was unsuccessful in intimidation. And that counts. "

A misunderstanding was probably the cause of the aggressive reaction

According to insiders from Brussels, China's harsh reaction can also be attributed to misunderstandings. Beijing initially believed that the report only dealt with China. In fact, he gives an overview of disinformation campaigns in general, especially those from Russia. Beijing believed it was alone in the dock when it wasn't, and that is probably why it was so aggressive.


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The EEAS then checked the central statements again: Can we substantiate all allegations beyond any doubt or do we offer unnecessary areas of attack with excessively harsh formulations? That took several days.

Contrast to Trump despite some agreement

This diplomatic stance of the EU contrasts with the actions of US President Donald Trump, who is waging a tough propaganda war with China. Bütikofer rejects this comparison. “It would be wrong to measure the EU's China policy with the yardstick of President Trump's knockout course. We take a different approach, ”says Bütikofer.

“We share many of Washington's criticisms of China, including when it comes to dealing with Corona. We also share the US assessment that China is a systemic rival. ”The China expert also emphasizes:“ We are not taking the course of total confrontation, but rather striving for a balance that enables cooperation with China in certain areas . "

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