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Commission Adviser Calls Europe Blind to Chinese Influence

Beijing is ramping up its efforts to covertly influence European policy-making and public opinion, but most EU countries are largely blind to what’s happening, Ivana Karásková, a Czech academic expert on foreign influence and special adviser to the European Commission told Politico, according to an article published on Friday, May 26th.

Chinese propaganda is nothing new on the continent, as Beijing has long been seeking to undermine transatlantic unity while promoting its own interests, but things started moving much quicker around 2019, the adviser said. The propaganda became bolder and more direct, while the covert funding of pro-China think tanks, academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations multiplied.

“In some countries, awareness of [Chinese influence operations] is high because they have a history of Russian-backed action. Elsewhere, it’s complete denial,” Karásková said. “It’s very uneven in terms of awareness. There are some countries where the discussion isn’t happening at all.”

Specifically, she said, there is an underlying disparity between the two halves of the EU with regard to the general awareness of Chinese influence. “The whole of Western Europe is not looking. And yet there are cases that are so blatant,” the academic added, arguing that East Central Europe’s ability to better spot malicious intentions may be due to their experience with Russian interference.

Citing examples, Karásková mentioned a recent case that she brought to public light. According to a research paper she published in April, two Czech commercial radio stations have been receiving regular content—including pre-written scripts—from China Radio International, owned by the Chinese Communist Party.

Needless to say, the Chinese state broadcaster made sure that the seemingly innocuous content echoed all the important CCP talking points. Over a thousand episodes aired without the stations disclosing the partnership, until Karásková’s report made them quietly cut the segment and purge all the episodes from their archive.

“It was not direct propaganda in the sense that they were saying [Chinese President] Xi Jinping is the best leader on the planet. But a huge number of episodes praised the CCP,” the adviser said, refuting the stations’ claim that they are only “apolitical music radios.”

The reason Karásková’s warnings are especially timely now is that the EU is currently in the midst of introducing its Defense of Democracy Package, which will also include a transparency measure that’s basically the EU’s version of the U.S.’ Foreign Agents Registration Act. The bill would force foreign-funded organizations to publicly disclose their sources of revenue in order to keep track of potential political advertising disguised as other types of benevolent or harmless activity.

But while the primary aim of the legislation is to counter Chinese and Russian interference in the EU’s democratic processes, a great number of largely American-funded, global NGOs began their excessive campaign against it, arguing that it would also hinder their ability to promote democracy and inclusion in Europe. 

The 230-strong list of (mostly left-leaning) global NGOs, that signed a letter earlier this month to beg the European Commission not to force them to disclose their benefactors, include—ironically enough—some of the biggest champions of transparency, such as Transparency InternationalHuman Rights WatchDemocracy International, and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, as well as several local asylum and LGBT lobbies.

But Karásková—who has also been appointed as a consultant on the Defense of Democracy package—dismissed the Western NGOs’ objections, saying that the European public deserves to know how every viewpoint is being funded. “Europe is really open. It is time not to close, but to shed light on where the financial flows are actually going and to which end.”

Source : EC