Borrell: China ‘expressed their concerns’ over disinformation leak

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Chinese officials "expressed their concerns" over the leak of a draft internal publication on disinformation, the EU's diplomatic chief Joseph Borrell confirmed on Thursday (30 April).


Chinese officials “expressed their concerns” over the leak of a draft Commission publication on disinformation, the EU’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell confirmed on Thursday (30 April).

His comments came days after the European External Action Service (EEAS), of which Borrell heads, denied media reports that it toned down allegations made against China as part of a report into state-led disinformation campaigns, following pressure from Beijing.

Chinese officials had originally been alerted to the publication of the report on disinformation, following a leak of a draft paper which contained strong allegations against the Chinese state.

“It’s clear and evident that China expressed their concerns when they knew that the document was leaked,” Borrell said on Thursday, speaking in front of MEPs in Parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

Borrell added that the Chinese used “diplomatic channels” to raise the alarm over allegations that their country has been embarking on a global disinformation campaign in a bid to defect blame for the spread of the coronavirus.

The head of the EEAS, also said that despite Chinese officials making their displeasure well-known to the EU’s diplomatic arm, the EEAS did not feel as though it was under pressure from the complaints.

‘Two documents’

Earlier in the week, the EEAS had been adamant that it was not pressurised by the Chinese into revising the working paper, following a leak of the document obtained by Politico.

The EEAS eventually published a public version of the paper last Friday (24 April), which still levelled accusations against China, but had also toned down its language in confronting Beijing so directly, when compared to the leaked version.

However, on Thursday Borrell echoed an earlier claim from the EEAS that rather than any ‘toning down’ taking place, the documents were different in nature because one was an internal working paper and the other was intended for public consumption.

“The allegations seen in some media refer to the fact that there are two different documents.  One, the Information Environment Assessment, is a document for internal purposes. The other one, the EEAS special report (or snapshot overview), is for public consumption,” an EEAS spokesperson told EURACTIV recently.

Despite the difference between the two documents, Borrell also noted that “the Chinese were not happy at the beginning, [and] they are still not happy now,” adding that the allegations included in the internal working paper were not included in the public version of the report, for fear of potential “inaccuracies” in the reporting.

More generally, Borrell also noted his concern at the fact that the leak had been made in the first place, and that the EEAS would look into the issue of internal whistleblowers attempting to discredit the leadership of the organisation.

Strategic Communications

The EEAS Strategic Communications and Information Analysis Division, which had originally been mobilised as part of the East Stratcom Task Force in 2015 and has predominantly analysed disinformation emanating from Russia, has recently expanded its competencies to focus more on China, an EU source told EURACTIV.

Nonetheless, the EastStratCom Task Force’s capacity to deal with fake news coming from Russia has previously been a concern highlighted by the European Commission, whose former vice-president, Andrus Ansip, said that the budget for the body, currently at €5 million, is far from enough when compared to the resources the Russians have at their disposal.

In 2017, two additional Task Forces were established, focussing on Europe’s South and the Western Balkans.

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