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The EU Let China Censor An Opinion Piece Without Telling European Governments

The EU Let China Censor An Opinion Piece Without Telling European Governments

At a press conference on Thursday the EU declined to respond to a reporter’s question about whether member states had been involved in the process of publication, saying it didn’t comment on internal procedures.

But correspondence from the EEAS in Beijing, seen by BuzzFeed News, shows the 27 European governments were not consulted on agreeing to the censorship. “We regret that pressure of time prevented advance consultation with MS [member states] on this occasion,” the agency wrote.

The agency explained in the email that the change to the article happened after the newspaper refused to consider publication without approval from the foreign ministry, referred to as “MFA”.

“After extensive negotiations the MFA made it clear that they would not agree to the publication of the op-ed if the change was not made. The EU Delegation finally conceded to the amendment with considerable reluctance” and “on the understanding that the op-ed would appear in the Chinese language People’s Daily — on 6 May”.

The EEAS added that it would make its disappointment known to China’s foreign ministry over the Chinese language version of the article not appearing.

China’s government has not yet provided an explanation as to why the Chinese version of the altered piece wasn’t published.

Several EU embassies in China, including Germany’s, published the full piece, including the reference to the “the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, and its subsequent spread to the rest of the world over the past three months”.

This is the second incident in the last year of the EEAS not being fully transparent with member states. BuzzFeed News reported last June that the bloc’s diplomatic mission in Moscow had been hacked, but the EEAS didn’t disclose the incident to EU governments, despite the belief that Russian entities were behind it.

The EEAS has in recent weeks come under scrutiny for its handling of relations with China. Earlier this week, the EU’s foreign policy arm responded to claims that it watered down a report about China’s global disinformation efforts and COVID-19 by lashing out at junior staff and blaming leaks. The EEAS denies that the report was softened following Chinese pressure.

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