Mapping & combatting Chinese disinformation & malign influences in Europe

Key points by Ioanna Georgia Eskiadi

In this webinar, we discussed China’s tactics on disinformation through the Coronavirus pandemic and the ways Europe has been affected.

  • China’s external propaganda increased during Covid-19 pandemic.
  • China controlled media, digital influencers, and social networks.
  • Disinformation about the origin of the virus was spread from China.
  • Democracy is important to combat disinformation.
  • China attempts Europe on infrastructure, investments and 5G technologies.
  • China has been involved in a campaign against the European Union.
  • Aim of Chinese campaign: improvement of economic and diplomatic footprint in EU.
  • Russia and China are sharing disinformation tactics.
  • China influence operations are focused on technology, media campaigns and debt diplomacy.
  • Tik-Tok is a tool of public diplomacy from China.

China’s propaganda at first was focused on deflecting international criticism over its domestic response but then changed on spreading disinformation over the origin of virus and attacking other countries’ responses. “In Greece, a lot of people believed that the virus was made in a laboratory, but Greeks overwhelmingly don’t trust the Chinese government according to polls,” says Bill Murad, U.S. Embassy in Athens. Democracy is an important argument through this pandemic. Authoritarian regimes ban the freedom of expression. An example of this is China, where Twitter is banned. A way to combat disinformation is to focus and highlight democracy, especially when we use media and avoid pressures as a tactic. 5G technologies is a sector where China tries to penetrate the European market, so European countries have to be aware when they pick Chinese companies, as they represent values of an authoritarian regime. In Greece, infostructure, investments and 5G technologies, are places where we see attempts by China”, says Bill Murad, U.S. Embassy in Athens.

China has been involved in a massive campaign of disinformation and intimidation against the European Union, to increase China’s economic and diplomatic footprint in the EU, since the pandemic started. Their aim is to be the largest partner of the EU. “China launched a massive and unpresented campaign both promoted to official governments and social media, so as to believe that China has responded well to Covid-19 pandemic,” says Thanos Siatistas, Ellinika Hoaxes. China presented as an example of successful handle of the pandemic while countries in the West allegedly failed.

Russia and China are two countries which are sharing their tactics, helping each other and exchanging information to enhance their propaganda and disinformation.

“In Serbia, people believe that China is the biggest foreign donor to their country, but numbers show EU. China is very careful with communication, basically projects and campaigns mainly conducted by China, not just in Serbia but in countries in central Europe like Hungary, it’s accompanied by very good communication campaigns, but also, it’s always built in a very well political approach” claims Franak Viacorka, Digital Communication Network.

China has a very well organized and prepared strategy in terms of political advocacy campaigns. In Western countries, China’s 5G technologies still can find some resistance from local producers and suppliers of technology, but when it goes to Southeast Asia and Africa, China doesn’t have many competitors. “China’s media presence is not so visible as Russian propaganda. China is working more cautiously. Several Chinese outlets trying to build their own bot nets and they take and use experience of Russia,” says Franak Viacorka, Digital Communication Network. Tik-Tok for China is a public diplomacy tool; it’s one of the most popular networks in the world, achieving success really quickly. Tik Tok offices in each country collaborate closely with local governments. Chinese influence operations appear in three ways — first is technology and surveillance, second, media campaigns, in some countries Chinses diplomats have published misleading up-eds that push a pro-china narrative, and third debt diplomacy. China provides cash-strapped infrastructurally weak countries with funds in a way that created political dependency.

Speakers

Bill Murad, is the Press Attache in U.S. Embassy in Athens

Thanos Siatistas is member and senior editor of Ellinika Hoaxes and has done tremendous work on disinformation issues. Ellinika Hoaxes is a fact-checking organization based in Greece, part of International Fact-Checking Network. EllinikaHoaxes are working with Facebook.

Franak Viačorka is the head of training at Digital Communication Network and contractor digital media strategist at the U.S. Agency for Global Media. He has worked as a creative director for the Belarus service of Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty and Vice President for Digital Communication Network.

This event is part of Digital Communication Network Southeast Europe hub’s Ideas in Action — Digital Engagement, a series of virtual events launched in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. The series aims to engage digital communities globally, to promote accurate information, combat distortions, encourage responsible behavior, and discourage panic, support mitigation of a global pandemic, and avoid major societal disruptions.

DCN SOUTHEAST EUROPE HUB is a consortium of Aristotle University, Digital Communication Network, non-profits, public and private organizations and companies involved in the fields of digital communication, social impact campaigns, technology, and innovation. It is a unique, interdisciplinary coalition tapping into the best talent and resources across Europe.

The webinar is produced by Digital Communication Network, a diverse professional coalition in the digital space.

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