China sought to block an EU report alleging that Beijing was spreading disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, according to four sources and diplomatic correspondence reviewed by Reuters.
The report was eventually released, albeit just before the start of the weekend in Europe and with some criticism of the Chinese government rearranged or removed, a sign of the balancing act Brussels is trying to pull off as the pandemic scrambles international relations.
The Chinese Mission to the EU was not immediately available for comment and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to faxed questions about the exchange.
An EU spokeswoman said: “We never comment on content or alleged content of internal diplomatic contacts and communication with our partners from another countries.”
Another EU official said that the disinformation report had been published as usual and denied any of it had been watered down.
Four diplomatic sources told reporters that the report had initially been scheduled for release on Tuesday, but was delayed after Chinese officials picked up on a Politico news report that previewed its findings.
A senior Chinese official contacted European officials in Beijing the same day to tell them that “if the report is as described and it is released today, it will be very bad for cooperation,” EU diplomatic correspondence reviewed by Reuters showed.
The correspondence quoted senior ministry official Yang Xiaoguang (楊曉光) as saying that publishing the report would make Beijing “very angry” and accused European officials of trying to please “someone else” — something that the EU diplomats understood to be a reference to Washington.
The four sources said that the report had been delayed as a result, and a comparison of the internal version of the report obtained by Reuters and the final version published late on Friday showed several differences.
For example, on the first page of the internal report shared with EU governments on Monday, the EU’s foreign policy arm said: “China has continued to run a global disinformation campaign to deflect blame for the outbreak of the pandemic and improve its international image. Both overt and covert tactics have been observed.”
The public summary posted on Friday to the bloc’s disinformation portal (euvsdisinfo.eu) attributed the disinformation to “state-backed sources from various governments, including Russia and — to a lesser extent — China.”
The public summary did note “significant evidence of covert Chinese operations on social media,” but the reference was left to the final six paragraphs of the document.
Disinformation about the pandemic is emerging as a flash point between the US and China, and officials on both sides have traded allegations of hiding information.
The disputes have sometimes caught the EU in the middle. With more than 1 billion euros (US$1.08 billion) per day in bilateral trade, the EU is China’s top trading partner, while China is second only to the US as a market for EU goods and services.
In a Webcast on Friday with the Friends of Europe think tank, Chinese Ambassador to the EU Zhang Ming (張明) said: “Disinformation is an enemy for all of us and it should be addressed by all of us.”
‘UNPRECEDENTED’: Taiwan’s envoy said that official wording framing Taiwan-China issues as not about unification or independence counters the narrative Beijing wants Use of the phrase “democratic Taiwan” by Germany’s new coalition government in official document shows that Taiwan-China issues are not about “independence” against “unification,” but about democracy against authoritarianism, Representative to Germany Shieh Jhy-wey (謝志偉) said yesterday. Germany’s Social Democratic Party, Free Democratic Party and the Greens — known as the “traffic light coalition” for their colors — on Wednesday inked a coalition agreement following elections on Sept. 26. The agreement, a blueprint for their governance for the next four years, mentions “Taiwan,” which is unprecedented, showing that the new German government is paying close attention to cross-strait peace and supports Taiwan’s
BIDEN NOD: A China watcher said that the inclusion of Taiwan is notable, as it is the only democratic state on the list that Washington does not officially recognize Minister Without Portfolio Audrey Tang (唐鳳) and Representative to the US Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) are to attend the US-led Summit for Democracy on Dec. 9 and 10, the government said yesterday, after US President Joe Biden announced the list of guests for the virtual event. The US Department of State on Tuesday announced a list of 110 invited participants, including Taiwan, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Japan and the UK. China and Russia were not invited, and Beijing expressed anger at the decision to invite Taiwan. The summit is to revolve around three key themes: Defending against authoritarianism, addressing and fighting
China said it would punish businesses and political donors with links to individuals supporting Taiwanese independence after it fined Taiwanese conglomerate Far Eastern Group (遠東集團). “Businesses and financial sponsors associated with supporters of Taiwan independence will be penalized according to law,” Taiwan Affairs Office spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian (朱鳳蓮) told reporters on Monday, according to a statement from her agency. Zhu said that backers of independence undermine cross-strait relations and risk instability in the region. Zhu made the remark as she responded to a question about whether the punishment Far Eastern received earlier on Monday was connected to China’s efforts to sanction Taiwanese
‘REMAIN VIGILANT’: The CECC said that the COVID-19 situation in neighboring countries is still severe, so it is not considering easing border controls at this point About 35,500 rooms are expected to be available at quarantine hotels and centralized quarantine facilities for Taiwanese returning to the nation from abroad between Dec. 14 and Feb. 14, up from 29,600 rooms announced previously, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said yesterday. Minister of Transportation and Communications Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) early this month said 26,000 rooms were available at quarantine hotels and that the CECC planned to make 3,600 rooms available at government quarantine facilities. The center announced the capacity expansion at an inter-ministerial meeting on COVID-19 prevention at the Executive Yuan yesterday morning. The CECC told the meeting that COVID-19 cases