Coronavirus News Asia

EU split over China’s ‘face mask’ diplomacy

PRAGUE – As Beijing revs up propaganda and soft-power campaigns to portray China as a trusted partner in the fight against Covid-19, a bid to counter the mainstream narrative that it is chiefly responsible for the global pandemic, the European Union (EU) is pushing back against China’s advances.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat and foreign policy chief, recently lashed out at China’s so-called Covid-19 “politics of generosity” as a bid to sow divisions in Europe as it grapples with the disease’s rising lethal spread.

“There is a global battle of narratives going on in which timing is a crucial factor,” Borrell said in a recent statement. “China is aggressively pushing the message that, unlike the US, it is a responsible and reliable partner.

“In the battle of narratives we have also seen attempts to discredit the EU as such and some instances where Europeans have been stigmatized as if all were carriers of the virus,” Borrell’s statement on China said.  

The European External Action Service, the bloc’s foreign policy department, publishes regular updates on global “disinformation” campaigns, particularly those by government-aligned entities in China and Russia.

“There was a deep reservoir of skepticism in Brussels about the Chinese government and [the Chinese Communist Party’s] political agenda and behavior going into this,” said Andrew Small, a fellow at the Asia Program of the US-based German Marshall Fund. “Beijing’s behavior through the crisis has done as much to reinforce that skepticism as it has to mitigate it.”

Last year, French President Emmanuel Macron said it was time for “an end to naivety” over China’s interests in Europe, while the European Commission, the EU’s executive, for the first time ever described China as a “systemic rival.”

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in a file photo. Photo: AFP

Ursula von der Leyen, the EC’s president, promised that she would create a “geopolitical” commission, which many commentators saw as a mechanism to build a more assertive EU in global affairs that forged a middle way between the US-China superpower rivalry.   

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