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.
Stoked by leaks from spookdom and growing circumstantial evidence, once-sceptical scientists and journalists are taking another look at the theory that the Covid-19 virus leaked from a lab in Wuhan. The case is still wide open — President Biden has ordered US intelligence to come up with an answer in 90 days.
But already there should be red faces. Facebook wrongly applied fact-check warnings to discussion of the lab-leak hypothesis. The British medical journal the Lancet in 2020 published an open letter denouncing it as a conspiracy theory; its editor Richard Horton wrote a piece decrying Sinophobia and arguing:
The world owes Chinese and Hong Kong scientists a debt of gratitude for their carefully calibrated warnings. But today's global narrative is exactly opposite to that judgment.
The Lancet loudly bangs other political drums, such as on the “ongoing torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange”. We asked for examples of pieces similarly critical of Beijing. A spokeswoman tells us the paper has been “clear” that China has “legitimate questions to answer” about Covid and other issues.
We’re looking forward to this (to us so far invisible) no-holds-barred coverage and hope it doesn’t get the magazine’s Beijing office into trouble.
Xi Jinping came close to admitting that Wolf Warrior bombast doesn’t work, telling the Communist Party leadership of the need to “make friends” and paint a more positive image of China. Certainly China’s Covid-related “twiplomacy” has been chaotic and counterproductive.
But for now, the charm offensive still stresses offense rather than charm. In particular, an inoffensive EU-Japan communique prompted this bossy outburst from the Chinese embassy in Brussels, saying the two sides had “completely gone beyond the norm of developing bilateral relations.” It wins this week’s Wolf Warrior award.
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Two reminders of why we worry about Chinese espionage activities in Europe:
The trial of an ex-employee of Huawei began in Warsaw. Prosecutors allege that Wang Weijing spied for China for seven years, trying to penetrate government technology infrastructure and also recruiting a former Polish intelligence officer to gain information about government radio networks. Both men deny wrongdoing.
Colleagues at Sinopsis in Prague unearthed a picture of Dr Junzong Feng, a visiting researcher at Cambridge University’s NanoEngineering Group, in PLA uniform. His specialty is graphene. Britain’s Mail on Sunday newspaper has since found nine research papers co-authored by staff at the Cambridge Graphene Centre and academics at PLA-linked universities. Dr Feng didn’t comment; Cambridge University says he had no access to laboratories or group meetings.
WHAT WE’RE READING
As the June 4th anniversary of the massacres in Tiananmen Square and elsewhere approaches, this guide from the Doublethink Lab (the snazzy graphics are a particular treat) explains how to deal with the party-state’s trolls.
This great piece by Elizabeth Economy on the underlying and growing problems facing the party-state.
The Washington Post on Hollywood’s habit of groveling to China.
This heartrending account in Elle on a daughter’s search for her kidnapped mother. Rahile Dawut, an internationally renowned Uyghur anthropologist, disappeared on the way to the airport.
Kevin Rudd tells the BBC that democracies must stick together in dealing with Beijing’s bullies.
Many thanks to Isobel Cockerell, Makuna Berkatsashvili, Mariam Kiparoidze, Mary Steffenhagen and Michael Newton at CEPA.
We’ll be back in your inboxes next week.
June 3, 2021