Coronavirus News Asia

Covid-19 trouble brewing behind EU-China ties


When European Union (EU) officials allegedly delayed and then rewrote a report on China’s state-sponsored Covid-19 disinformation campaign, it represented Beijing’s latest strong-arm attempt to control the pandemic’s narrative.

The Financial Times reported that Chinese officials warned EU politicians at least three times and even threatened bilateral relations if the EU publicly criticized Beijing for spreading propaganda about the pandemic’s origin and China’s response to it’s initial outbreak in the city of Wuhan.

“The Chinese are already threatening with reactions if the report comes out,” Lutz Güllner, head of communications at the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s foreign service,  wrote in a letter to colleagues quoted in media reports.

When the report was finally published on April 24 in the form of a summary of Covid-19 related events, European politicians claimed it left out detailed criticism of China’s pandemic propaganda that were included in previous versions of the report.

“We are revolted by the reports revealing that the … EEAS bowed under Chinese pressure and modified its findings about the Chinese disinformation campaign on Covid-19,” Sandra Kalniete, a member of the European Parliament and vice-chairwoman of the center-right European People’s Party grouping, said in a statement. 

Spokespeople for the European Commission, the EU’s executive, have denied they watered down the report. But the controversy comes as EU-China relations have arguably hit their lowest point in decades, chiefly over Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

In mid-April, the French foreign ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador to Paris for a private dressing down after the Chinese Embassy reportedly published online posts claiming that French nursing home workers were “abandoning posts” and leaving “residents to die of hunger and disease.”

Around the same time, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said there could no longer be “business as usual” with China after the pandemic. The comment may have been motivated by an open letter several senior politicians from the governing Conservative Party wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for a “rethink” of UK-China relations.


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