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.
UYGHUR TRIBUNAL AND WOLF WARRIOR AWARD
We heard horrific testimonies of torture, abduction and abuse aired at the Uyghur tribunal in London this weekend. The party-state responded by showcasingsupposedly happy relatives at a gruesome press conference. But the Global Times effort was a convoluted tweet that seemed to be arguing that Britain is a land of nonsense contradictions anyway.
Sample: “Coldplay's concerts are often as popular as fire.”
That was opaque even by the Aesopian standard set by the Chinese embassy in Ireland.
50-cent trolls were also out in force with tasteless remarks mocking the supposed death of Queen Elizabeth after the British embassy in Beijing tweeted a poignant image marking the anniversary of the massacres in Tiananmen Square and other locations.
But this week’s winner is the Chinese embassy in Budapest for its press secretary’s all-too-understandable Facebook rant about protests against the proposed Fudan University campus (see below).
Sample: “in broad daylight, it is unseemly to criticize the internal affairs of another country,” he wrote, while lambasting things he didn’t like in, er, Hungary’s internal affairs.
Democracy-minded Hungarians have had fun in the comments below the post.
We wonder what the embassy will say now that the Hungarian authorities are backtracking on the $1.8 billion project. A senior aide to Victor Orbán, Gergely Gulyás, said that the project “was not even at the planning phase,” and would be subject to approval by referendum. Words in praise of China (like the prime minister’s latest polemic) are cheap. The wily Magyars take a different approach when it comes to deeds.
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GREAT WALLS OF FIRE
This week provided more evidence of how the party-state uses its commercial and other clout to control all discussion of China everywhere in the world.
The Hong Kong Liberation Coalition, co-founded by former lawmaker Baggio Leung (also US-based) complained WordPress took down its website. The owner, web giant Automattic, says the site “broke the rules.” We asked, “which rules?” No answer.
An activist group linked to UK-based Nathan Law complained after another (Israeli) web hosting company, Wix, temporarily removed its site, 2021HKcharter.com
The Bing search engine (no we haven’t used it much either) blocked searches for “tank man” and “Tiananmen square” over the anniversary weekend. It blamed a technical error.
A related furor is raging in science publishing. We wrote last week about the Lancet’s odd treatment of the now-mainstream lab-leak theory for the Covid pandemic’s origins. Now Ian Birrell, a British journalist, has highlighted further instances of strange editorial decisions there and at Nature, reflecting — critics fear — the journals’ lucrative corporate links to China.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times has unearthed more goings-on at Jesus College Cambridge, a Chinese influence hotspot where the top China expert (cheerleader, critics say) Peter Nolan told his colleagues last year that allowing debates on contentious issues would be “unhelpful.” The Daily Telegraph has been ferreting around too: Britain’s 20 leading universities accepted more than £40 million ($56 million) from Chinese state-backed companies.
China will be center-stage at the upcoming NATO, US-EU and G7 summits — though as a topic, not as a participant. NATO mentioned China for the first time only in 2019. Now a big rethink is looming. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance does not see China as an adversary but decried its human rights abuses, coercion of neighbours and threats to Taiwan.
The president of the EU council, Charles Michel, defended EU efforts to agree a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment with China. “What’s on the table is a huge step in the right direction” he claimed. That won’t go down well with the US. But it chimes with European business thinking. A survey by the European Chamber of 585 member companies showed just 9% of respondents plan to shift investment out of China (a record low).
In other business news:
China’s COSCO is in troubling talks with the port of Hamburg,
Nokia’s boss Markus Borchert performed a spectacular grovel, telling a media roundtable that the Nordic technology firm “has Chinese DNA.”
But Germany’s industry chief Siegfried Russwurm had unusually strong words on China’s “totally unacceptable” repression of Uyghurs and use of slave labor. The Finnish clothing firm Reima has dumped its Chinese suppliers for that reason.
Only two leaders from China’s battered 17+1 framework for east European countries turned up to the consumer-goods trade fair in Ningbo. They were Czech president Miloš Zeman and his Serbian counterpart Aleksander Vučić. They had to endure this specially composed song. Null points, comrades.
WHAT WE’RE READING
China’s poverty-reduction claims ignore poverty in cities and don’t take them at face value, argues the development economist Bill Bikales in this Swiss study.
Poke around, and headlines about Chinese investment abroad also often reveal a more sobering reality. That’s the conclusion from this investigation in Georgia.
Remember the days when Chinese visitors were impressed by Western supermarkets? This historic piece from a local newspaper in Wales is well worth a read.
Many thanks to Isobel Cockerell, Katia Patin and Mariam Kiparoidze, and to Michael Newton at CEPA.
We’ll be back in your inboxes next week.
June 10, 2021