(Natural News) Nicolas Chapuis, the European Union’s envoy to China, expressed regret Thursday that Chinese state-backed media censored an op-ed co-authored by him and 26 other ambassadors. The apology came as critics branded the E.U.’s consent to the change as the latest example of the bloc bowing to pressure from Beijing.
The version of the op-ed that ran on Tuesday by China Daily had removed references to the global coronavirus pandemic having its origins in China. The ambassadors submitted the piece to mark the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the E.U. and China
“It is of course regrettable to see that the sentence about the spread of the virus has been edited,” Chapuis told reporters Thursday. However, he refused to comment on why the article had been censored.
E.U. self-censorship called out
The incident highlights growing tensions within the E.U. over what has been perceived by some countries as self-censorship in order to preserve relations with Beijing. Last month, a decision to amend an E.U. report on China’s alleged disinformation activities after heavy diplomatic pressure from Beijing sparked a row among E.U. officials.
According to Janka Oertel, Asia program director at the European Council on Foreign Relations, the altering of the China Daily piece was “gravely out of sync with the political realities – with or without the censored bits.”
“I understand the urge of not letting relations deteriorate further, and the wish to enlist the Chinese leadership for delivering on climate change and multilateralism,” she stated. “But nothing Beijing does at the moment signals that they would actually be willing to do so.”
The European Commission, the E.U.’s executive, stated that its embassy to Beijing made its concerns about the requested edit and the vetting of the article by the Chinese foreign ministry clear. “The E.U. delegation decided nevertheless to proceed with [the] publication of the op-ed with considerable reluctance, as it is considered important o communicate on very key messages in E.U. policy,” stated the Commission on its daily news briefing in Brussels.
The Commission also said that, even with the changes, the article made clear the bloc’s concerns on human rights in China, as well as its views on climate change policies and the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Several E.U. member states, including France, Germany and Italy, publicized links to the uncensored version of the op-ed. Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius even tweeted a link to the unchanged article.
Beijing fighting disinformation accusations
The dispute highlights Beijing’s efforts to fight back against accusations that it mishandled the pandemic during its early phases. It’s widely believed that the pandemic started in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. (Related: Desperate to rewrite coronavirus narrative, Beijing goes on a warpath against whistleblowers… and science)
At least three separate formal diplomatic complaints have been made by Beijing, including one to Chapuis, over the leaked E.U. internal disinformation report that accused China of implementing a “global disinformation campaign” to deflect blame for the coronavirus.
An edited version of the report that was toned-down was published a few days later. However, the E.U. denied that it bowed to pressure from Beijing.
China has also clashed with the U.S. in recent weeks over control of the global narrative on the pandemic. Beijing has even gone as far as to promote the theory that the virus was planted in Wuhan by the U.S. military.
Meanwhile, Beijing bristled at a call made last week by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for an independent inquiry. Morrison said that such an inquiry was “entirely reasonable.”
This week, the E.U. followed Washington’s lead, saying that it would support an independent review into the origin and spread of the coronavirus when the World Health Assembly convenes later this month.
However, Beijing said that it would now allow such a review until “final victory” was declared over the outbreak.