Is the EU Doing Enough on China?

Information Sovereignty and Malign Influence

28 July 2020

China is increasingly a matter of debate in the EU institutions. After cases of political filtering and self-censorship, the Union appears set to take a more defensive approach against its authoritarian competitor.

Recent developments related to Hong Kong led to various responses across the globe. Illustrative in this regard, is the EU’s attempt to meet China’s authoritarian influence with democratic resilience. But is the EU doing enough on China?

This was the topic of the Visegrad Insight Transatlantic breakfast discussion, which took place on 21 July 2020.

Speakers at the meeting:

  • Miriam Lexmann, Member of the European Parliament from Slovakia
  • Monika Richter, Senior Director at CounterAction
  • Peter Kreko, Director at Hungarian Think Tank Political Capital, Europe’s Futures Fellow at IMW/ERSTE Foundation

The discussion was moderated by Wojciech Przybylski, Editor-in-Chief at Visegrad Insight.

At the meeting, Miriam Lexmann stressed that six years ago, when the discussion on disinformation and election meddling started within the EU, its scope was fixed to Russia, rather than China. In the Russian case, there was a clear consensus that the conflict is ideological, while China was considered a business agent, without a need to influence the political processes.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in this shift, when China started to influence public opinion across the globe, mostly as a response to the discourse of guilt put on the country. Herein, this operation reveals how China was prepared for such a manoeuvre.

Three examples help to demonstrate its significance: the softening of the EU report on China; the self-censoring of the letter by EU Ambassadors published in Chinese media by the EU Ambassador to China and the omittance of the topic of human rights in the trade and investment debates with the Chinese counterparts.

Monika Richter described the processes that led to the altercation of the EU report on China as a case of political filtering and self-censorship. According to Richter, this case reveals the dynamics of how malign influence works – by fostering the process of self-questioning and thus failing to defend true values. The one valid response to this intimidation tactics is not to comply with such demands.

Hence, the pandemic was a wake-up moment for EU, but the Union had a difficult time to put itself in a strong posture against the authoritarian regimes in general.

Peter Kreko, drawing upon a project of monitoring MEP’s activities, conducted in partnership with the National Endowment for Democracy and Visegrad Insight among others, stressed that the EP does the most to counter malign influence from the authoritarian regimes. There is an important shift recently, as China appears more in the discussions in the European Parliament.

Importantly, the rising topic regarding China appears to be human rights violations, rather than trade and investment deals.

Recent Visegrad Insight publications on the topic:

  • An assessment of the global crisis of trust and disinformation
  • An interview with Christopher Walker, VP for Studies and Analysis at NED, about sharp power and how it limits our democratic public space
  • Vojtech Berger’s take on the Hungarian government’s presentation of the Chinese aid as something exceptional, available via this link
  • Andreas Vou’s article on China’s weakening grip on Central and Eastern Europe
  • The full report on “Information Sovereignty: Scenarios for Central Europe Executive summary”, available via this link
  • More articles published under the #InformationSovereignty tag


Watch the entire discussion here:


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