China has waged “targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns” amid the pandemic, the EU’s top diplomat is claiming. Josep Borrell’s office has released a report on the matter, but it cited some dubious sources.
The report, published on Wednesday, details the EU’s response to an “unprecedented infodemic” – that is, the propagation of false or misleading information about Covid-19 – coming amid the pandemic. Some of it was blamed on “foreign influence operations” and singled out China and Russia as culprits.
Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs representative, said he had discussed Brussels’ complaints about Beijing with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a recent video conference, and had attempted to keep the conversation non-confrontational.
“I told him: ‘Don’t worry – Europe’s not going to embark on any kind of Cold War with China,’” the news agency AFP cited Borrell as saying.
The accusations against Russia and China voiced in the report are based on research provided by the European External Action Service and its research group EUvsDisinfo.
However, their work may not be as reliable as the EU leadership apparently believes. In April, a UK-based media watchdog criticized it, saying EUvsDisinfo tended to misrepresent the coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic in the Russian media, while its headlines and summaries of individual cases or alleged disinformation themselves bordered on disinformation.
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Meanwhile, Washington is seeking to pin the blame for the Covid-19 outbreak on Beijing. US officials accused China of under-reporting the severity of the infection, after it was identified in the city of Wuhan, and possibly even causing the global health crisis through a leak of the disease strain from a laboratory. China denied the accusations and said they were nothing but a political ploy.
So far, European nations seem to be reluctant to subscribe to the US narrative, but some EU officials have accused China of trying to score political points on the back of the pandemic, including through unsavory means. Beijing has denied that this is the case. China’s ambassador to the EU, Zhang Ming, called disinformation “an enemy for all of us.”
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The report also says the bloc needs to boost strategic communications, both internally and with non-EU partners, primarily NATO allies; pressurize online platforms to make them more forceful in dealing with Covid-19 falsities; and boost fact-checking and pluralistic debate online to deal with the so-called “infodemic.”
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