Coronavirus & China — E.U. Official Confirms China Objected to Coronavirus Report, Denies Revisions Were Result of Pressure

Policy

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European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, holds a virtual news conference at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, March 31, 2020. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

The European Union’s foreign policy chief admitted Thursday that China “expressed their concerns” over an EU report on Chinese disinformation regarding coronavirus, after allegations that his team had watered down their initial findings “to appease the Chinese Communist Party.”

Speaking to the European Parliament in Brussels, Josep Borrell denied that Beijing had coerced him to soften the report’s verdict. Drafts of the report showed that language condemning China for “a global disinformation campaign” was removed, while an analyst in the EU administration warned her superiors of “self-censoring.”

“I can assure you that no changes had been introduced to the report published last week to align the concerns of a third party, in this case, China. There is no watering down of our findings. We have not bowed to anyone,” he said.

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But Borrell admitted that it was “clear and evident” China was unhappy with the leaked report, first reported by the New York Times, stressing that the Chinese “expressed their concerns through the diplomatic channels.”

The admission did not satisfy some lawmakers. Thierry Mariani, a French politician, told Borrell that his team had been “caught with their hand in the cookie jar,” while a Beligan member, Hilde Vautmans, demanded further answers. “Who interfered? Which Chinese official put pressure? At what level? What means of pressure?” she asked. “I think Europe needs to know that. Otherwise you’re losing all credibility.”

Borrell did not go into details over his contact with China over the report. “The Chinese were not happy,” he stated. “They were not happy at the beginning and they are still not happy now.”

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