Hello, and welcome to China Influence Monitor, a weekly newsletter published by CEPA and Coda Story and edited by me, Edward Lucas. We track the westward footprint of China’s influence operations, and their effects on politics, economies, societies and alliances across Central Asia, the Caucasus, Russia and Europe.
The party-state likes to control all discussion of China anywhere in the world. One example is how it pushed academic publishers to dismiss the “lab-leak” possibility as a racist conspiracy theory.
Now Peter Daszak, a zoologist with close ties to China, has been dumped (sorry, “recused”) from the Lancet’s UN-backed investigation into the origins of the pandemic. Separately, the medical journal published a grudging clarification of Daszak’s earlier declaration that he had no conflict of interest when he wrote an open letter praising China’s response and decrying its critics.
Oddly, the Lancet doesn’t link the two developments. But others will.
On another front, LinkedIn is warning some of its 750 million users to remove contentious terms like “Tiananmen” and “Uyghur” from their bios, or be blocked in China. Is this pre-emptive self-censorship by LinkedIn (the only Western social media company operating more-or-less freely in China) or did the Chinese authorities insist? We asked LinkedIn. No answer.
China has appealed to the Finnish president Sauli Niinistö to “play a unique and positive role” in reviving its ties with the European Union. Good luck with that: the Chinese read-out of the talk is notably more enthusiastic than the Finnish one. A blizzard of setbacks for China include:
- The European Union’s too-often tongue-tied foreign service condemned the persecution of Apple Daily in Hong Kong.
- Slovenia’s prime minister Janez Janša made tough remarks on China too. His country takes over the EU’s rotating presidency in July.
- Germany’s industrialists have (again) voiced concern about human rights and the supply chain.
- A Swedish appeal court upheld a ban on Huawei kit in the country’s 5G network. Swedes are also cross about evidence that China has copied its submarine fins. A public-pension fund put two Chinese firms on its investment blacklist.
- Norway’s PST security service blamed China’s APT 31 for a huge hack on government computers in 2018.
- Italy has busted a huge Chinese money-laundering operation.
- The U.S. continues to worry about Ukraine’s defense industries falling into Chinese hands.
The six opposition candidates vying to topple Viktor Orbán in next year’s Hungarian elections have written to Xi Jinping saying that whoever wins will cancel both the planned Fudan University campus in Budapest and also the murky railway contract linking the Hungarian capital with Belgrade.
Norway’s VG newspaper has similar worries about Fudan’s Europe center at Oslo University. The university’s rector Svein Stølen disputes the story, telling us that the contract is for four years and can be canceled at any time for any reason.
Meanwhile, Lithuania’s keeping up the pressure with an in-your-face donation of 20,000 covid jabs to hard-hit Taiwan, where mainland pressure has sabotaged attempts to buy vaccines from Germany. An unusual visit to Lithuania (and the other Baltic states) by Japan’s foreign minister, Toshimitsu Motegi, highlights that region’s importance in pushing back against Chinese influence.
The party-state may be on the back foot in Europe lately, but in most of the world the West is in disarray, and China’s ahead. At the UN, 44 countries backed a motion critical of China’s human-rights record. Most European countries signed up, including normally-neutral Switzerland, but no African countries, only Japan from Asia, and minnows from Latin America. Where was Montenegro? If the Balkan state wants Western help in untangling its debts, this would be a good start.
On the other side of the aisle, sanctions-hit Belarus spearheaded a rival motion praising China, backed by a record 65 countries, with expressions of support expected from 25 more.
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WOLF WARRIOR AWARD
The winner this week is China’s ambassador to France. Lu Shaye asserted that a) Wolf Warrior diplomacy is a justified response to unfair criticism and b) criticizing Chinese diplomats for it is a slur.
David Bandurski of the China Media Project has a thoughtful take on Xi Jinping’s recent call for more effective public diplomacy; Global Times hurls accusations as usual. The nationalist news outlet also lambasts Western countries for their human-rights record.
China is giving $204m to cash-strapped Tajikistan for new highways. All the contracts will go to Chinese firms, though. Also sweetening the deal: the Tajik authorities are sending back fugitive Uyghurs.
China’s power-thirsty bitcoin miners are finding a new home in Kazakhstan. They will be able to use electricity from Central Asia’s largest wind farm, being built with Chinese technology. These are the sort of projects where Russia simply can’t compete: part of the region’s slow slide eastwards.
An ambitious Kyrgyz entrepreneur hopes to sell vast quantities of powdered protein to China, made from crickets.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Taiwan-based J Michael Cole has a gripping take on the “Role of Organized Crime and Related Substate Actors in Chinese Political Warfare”.
- The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project investigates China’s overseas tobacco empire.
- India Today highlights the Chinese squeeze on critical Twitter accounts
- CEPA’s Emil Avdaliani on how Russia and China are building an “exclusion zone” in Central Asia.
- German consumer-rights champion Isabelle Buscke on how the EU should tighten product-safety rules on dangerous Chinese imports
- Fire-breathing British MP Tom Tugendhat on boosting Britain’s defense ties with Australia. He also sounded the alarm in the Financial Times about the party-state’s threat to academic freedom.
- German China-watchers are wrangling about ethics. Alicia Hennig (who is based in China) responds to Katja Levy’s let’s-be-nice piece.
- Coda Story’s Ilan Greenberg on the threats to prominent exile Uyghurs.
That’s it for this week — we will be back in your inboxes next Thursday.
Many thanks to Isobel Cockerell, Erica Hellerstein, Katia Pantin and Makuna Berkatsashvili at Coda Story, and to Michael Newton at CEPA.