Alongside Russia, another actor has been using the coronavirus to prominently enter the European disinformation stage – China.
Even though Chinese media and diplomats have been previously using social media to spread misleading information, pushing out blatant conspiracy theories that sew chaos is a step-up in their tactics. This change is part of the Chinese attempt to change the negative narrative surrounding it, accusing it of concealing the virus and allowing it to grow into a global pandemic.
Aside from supporting conspiracies about the origin of the virus, China has been continuing with its propaganda – painting itself as the “good guy” that provides free aid to suffering European states. It does not shy away from inflating the extent of their help – many of the shipments China presents as aid are regular exports that the receiving countries had paid for. Nonetheless, the approach seems to be working, as many European government officials have publicly praised Chinese help and put aside previous issues.
However, this help likely comes with strings attached. China may use it to strengthen its position in Europe and gain strategic concessions, as it has been doing with its soft power for years. In the role of Europe’s friendly partner, China may pressure it to grant Huawei greater access to 5G networks, demand exclusive treatment in economic and trade matters, or require states to stop condemning its human rights abuses or cut ties with Taiwan.
China is emerging as a victor in this story. It has managed to turn the coronavirus narrative upside down – from being the country that caused the outbreak to being Europe’s savior, all the while pushing out fake news blaming the USA for creating the virus. China’s tactic of “action and distraction” seems to be working as planned.
European nations must remain vigilant and step out against actors trying to capitalize on the pandemic. If we let China, or anyone else hijack the discourse and shift the blame away from themselves, the responsible parties will be rewarded instead of punished, and similar crises will be bound to repeat.
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into a broader context.
Responsible editor Matúš Jevčák.
Author: Katarína Kondrótová
The text has not undergone language revision.