Galan Dall interviewed Ivana Karásková about the new report from her initiative, ChinfluenCE, an international project mapping China’s influence in Central Europe through media content and complex analyses of key agenda setters, revealing e.g. links between Czech political and economic elites and the pro-China lobby.
Scroll down for a link to the whole ChinfuenCE report.
Your new report highlights how the parliaments in the region (CZ and HU) have changed their references to China over the past three decades. Have you seen any differences in the region (through a country comparison or over time) and what might account for those variations?
There has been a clear difference between the Czech and the Hungarian parliament. The former essentially started in 1990s as being predominantly skeptical towards China, and went through a phase of more positive tendencies surrounding the promises of sizable Chinese investment, to the current situation when China is increasingly regarded as a threat.
This time, however, the threat is no longer perceived as merely ideological or political (i.e. linked to the issue of human rights) but also in the security sector, as the case of Huawei vividly demonstrates.
In the Hungarian parliament the discourse was originally shaped by voices critical towards the PRC, these included FIDESZ during its opposition years.
However, once Viktor Orbán came to power in 2010, the critical stance was dropped in favor of a generally neutral tone that almost exclusively focuses on economic issues like bilateral trade or investment.
Opposition is mostly silent on China issue and all parties agree on China being an important economic player. In this, contemporary Hungarian discourse is markedly different from the situation in the Czech Republic.
Are there any regional (or global) elements which are limiting China’s investment in Central Europe (CE)? Are politicians in CE worried about the downturn of the Chinese economy?
For a long time, there were no such limitations (apart from China’s lack of interest in the region – which, to some degree, is still the case despite repeated assurances of potential Chinese investments).
However, this situation is currently undergoing substantive change. Marrying economic concerns with security risks, Chinese companies are increasingly portrayed as extended arms of the state.
This has stimulated the effort to put in place e.g. the screening mechanism, both at the European level and in the EU member states which had lacked the mechanism.
From this perspective, while the downturn of China’s economy would have considerable global effects, the interest in limiting China’s influence in Europe seems to be a more pressing concern at the moment (as evident from the European Commission’s designation of the PRC as a ‘strategic competitor’).
Have you noted any disparities between what might be said in the parliamentary sphere and the general public, for example, the media?
Generally, the parliamentary discourses have been less emotional, or more muted. To put it as an anecdote, Czech politicians (taking various stances towards China) seem to prefer not to raise the issue in the parliament but rather vocalize their opinions through the media.
In the Czech Republic, this has been coupled with the journalists’ own stances, predominantly critical of the PRC and its ruling regime.
Huawei has been in the news recently, specifically in relation to the Czech Republic. How seriously are politicians taking this potential security risk and are there any other areas where China’s influence should be of concern for those living in CE?
From the information that is available on this issue, it seems Czech politicians (those in the position of power, at the least, and of course the opposition parties generally critical of China, such as TOP 09, ODS or Pirates) take the issue very seriously. So does the the security community.
This has also been reflected in the U.S. interest in the findings of and warning on Huawei’s technologies issued by the Czech National Cyber and Information Security Agency.
Based on ChinfluenCE research, one additional sector that warrants special attention is media ownership.
What we found through our previous analysis of the Czech media discourse, ownership by a Chinese company led to a complete change in the tone of the reporting on the PRC.
Before the acquisition of the media outlet by the Chinese company CEFC, the outlet reported on China with a usual mixture of positive, neutral and negative coverage. After the Chinese company acquired a stake in the media outlet, all reports on China were positive.
The topics which were covered by the media outlet also changed considerably, focusing on China-promoted issues such as Belt and Road initiative or 16+1 platform, which were previously absent in the reporting.
This should raise concerns for possible future cases of media acquisitions by companies owned (or predominantly owned) by Chinese companies.
Read the full PDF version of the ChinfuenCE report by clicking here.