Friday

14th Aug 2020

Coronavirus

EU criticised for giving in to Beijing censorship

  • EU foreign affairs chief said the EU needs to work within the Chinese context, including censorship (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU has come under renewed criticism for giving into censorship by China, after part of an opinion piece by the bloc's 27 European ambassadors published in the official China Daily was removed before publication.

The passage, referring to coronavirus originating from China, says the outbreak "...in China, and its subsequent spread to the rest of the world over the past three months" was removed upon the request by Chinese authorities.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The op-ed was published on Tuesday (6 March) to mark the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the EU and China. The full piece was published on the EU delegation's website.

The EU's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell admitted on Wednesday (7 March) that "it was a misguided decision that must be put in this context".

"The EU delegation [in China] thought that was better to pass the EU's message on other topics, but he didn't manage to reach what he wanted, because the article was not published in Chinese," Borrell told journalists.

"I don't think it has a significant importance," he added, commenting on the missing sentence.

The commission said it regretted that the op-ed was not published in full in China Daily.

A commission spokesperson said the EU delegation was informed that the publication could only go forward with the agreement of the ministry of foreign affairs of China.

The delegation made its "concerns" known over the process and the request to remove part of the sentence.

"The EU delegation nevertheless decided to proceed with publication with considerable reluctance as it considered it important to communicate on EU policy priorities," the spokesperson said.

The 27 EU ambassadors in China were not properly consulted about whether to go ahead with publication in China Daily, despite the censorship, Reuters reported.

Borrell said it is "not a secret that in China there is censorship and the control of media", and that diplomacy operates within those constraints.

"All our missions, like all missions in Beijing, must work following the limits marked out by the Chinese authorities," Borrell said, adding that Chinese authorities use media freedom in Europe, including social platforms banned in China, to promote their messages across.

"Within this context, EU delegations do all their best to send the EU's message to China trying to overcome these barriers," he added.

"One sentence was deleted, but it is still the way of passing the EU's message in other areas like human rights, sustainability and others," the Spanish politician added.

In fact, the op-ed only briefly mentions human rights.

"While we have our differences, notably on human rights, our partnership has become mature enough to allow frank discussion on these issues," it reads.

It also calls on China to "join hands" and "invest in smart and green solutions for a more sustainable and healthy planet fully adhering to the universal principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights".

'Simply unacceptable'

MEP Reinhard Bütikofer said allowing censorship was "simply unacceptable".

"If the EU ambassador decided on his own to kow-tow, he should be relieved of his post. If he was given green light for kowtowing from Brussels, the European Parliament must censure Borrell," the Green MEP, who heads the EU parliament's delegation for relations with China, tweeted.

The EU came under scrutiny last week, as China pressured the bloc to tone down its report on Chinese disinformation.

The US and China has been locked in a war of words over the pandemic, with president Donald Trump claiming the virus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, while Chinese diplomats have promoted the theory that the virus was planted in Wuhan by the US military.

Investigation

China suspected of bio-espionage in 'heart of EU'

Chinese spies have targeted Belgian biological warfare experts, vaccine-maker GSK, and other high-tech firms in the country, Belgium's intelligence service suspects.

EU secures remdesivir supplies for 30,000 patients

The European Commission signed this week a €63m contract with the US-based biopharmaceutical company Gilead to secure batches of remdesivir for 30,000 patients with "severe" Covid-19 symptoms - after the US left Europe and most of the world without supplies.

News in Brief

  1. Most EU states oppose US sanctions on Russia pipeline
  2. UK imposes quarantine on France, Netherlands, Malta
  3. At least 3.5m EU nationals to stay in UK
  4. UK urged to 'calm down' on migrants
  5. Pompeo starts EU tour with anti-Chinese 5G deal
  6. Dutch lawsuit seeks billions from tech firms
  7. Amazon people urge EU banks to stop funding pollution
  8. Russia vaccine could be "dangerous", Germany says

Opinion

Italy has a responsibility, too

Little wonder the leaders of Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden are unwilling to sign off: they're not going to give money so the Italians can fund a tax cut in the middle of an economic crisis.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us