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Corona pandemic: European Commission should question China over spreading misinformation, say European Parliamentarians

ANI | Updated: Apr 28, 2020 10:17 IST

Brussels [Belgium], April 28 (ANI): The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Party have issued an open letter calling on the European Commission (EC) to investigate and explain the allegations that a recent report documenting how governments push disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic was watered down after pressure from Beijing.
The letter, dated April 27, written by Spanish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Hermann Tertsch, called on EC President Urusula Von der Leyen and High Representative Josep Borrell to explain the recent reports published in Politico and the New York Times that "language critical to China was removed from a report on misinformation as a direct result of Chinese interference," said ECR in a press release.
On Friday (April 24), The New York Times said in its report, 'Pressured by China, EU Softens Report on Covid-19 Disinformation', that the European Commission softened a report after receiving outside pressure from the People's Republic of China. The article also stated that the language related to China's use of disinformation was removed and other critical language was toned down in the report that was released by the European External Action Service on the same day.
"If this is the case, it is incredibly concerning. The pressure exerted on the European Commission is itself a very worrying fact. The spread of disinformation, propaganda and misinformation is not something that should be dealt with lightly and the public has a right to know if the European Commission believes that there is evidence of Chinese interference. That would be in line with multiple sources in both Asia and the West that have clear indications that this has been taking place." Tertsch wrote in the letter.
"We already know that there is significant evidence of Russian misinformation during this crisis, as there has been during previous ones, including the dissemination of propaganda and fake news related to the ongoing situations in Ukraine and Syria," the letter read.
"We would therefore like clarity on the extent to which Chinese actors have been active within Europe during the Coronavirus crisis in Europe," it added.
The NYT also stated that the initial European Union report was not particularly strident: "a routine roundup of publicly available information and news reports".

It cited Beijing's efforts to curtail mentions of the virus's origins in China, in part by blaming the United States for spreading the disease internationally. It noted that Beijing had criticized France as slow to respond to the pandemic and had pushed false accusations that French politicians used racist slurs against the head of the World Health Organization. The report also highlighted Russian efforts to promote false health information and sow distrust in Western institutions.
"China has continued to run a global disinformation campaign to deflect blame for the outbreak of the pandemic and improve its international image," the initial report said. "Both overt and covert tactics have been observed."
But China moved quickly to block the document's release, and the European Union pulled back. The report had been on the verge of publication, until senior officials ordered revisions to soften the language.
"The Chinese are already threatening with reactions if the report comes out," Lutz Gullner, a European Union diplomat, wrote to colleagues on Tuesday in an email seen by The Times.
The sentence about China's "global disinformation" campaign was removed, as was any mention of the dispute between China and France. Other language was toned down.
The MEPs further seeking clarification on the report questioned the EC to answer, "Does the European Commission have evidence that the Chinese government has been spreading misinformation in Europe related to the COVID-19 outbreak? If so, what steps has the European Commission taken to alert member states and the public? Equally - is there any evidence to suggest that the European External Action Service (EEAS) was under undue external influence to self-censor the report on disinformation? Regardless of if there has been influence or not on the particular report cited, what steps has the EEAS taken to counter foreign interference in the reporting process?"
"The ECR Party hopes that this letter will lead to a wider investigation into the influence that the Chinese Communist Party has in Brussels," the letter concluded. (ANI)