Europe’s China gloom; Germany’s universities under fire

Edward Lucas


Hello, and welcome to China Influence Monitor, a weekly newsletter published by CEPA and Coda Story and edited by me, Edward Lucas. We track the westward footprint of China’s influence operations, and their effects on politics, economies, societies and alliances across Central Asia, the Caucasus, Russia and Europe.

In this issue: US and China battle for European hearts and minds; secretive German unis in court; Huawei’s news app

America acts — but what do Europeans think?

China will be the Biden administration’s top foreign-policy priority, and Europe will be its most important ally. So European views on China, and towards the US, will be vital.  

big opinion survey by Richard Turcsányi and colleagues at the Central European Institute of Asian Studies show attitudes to China are hardening, and negative in ten out of the 13 countries surveyed: the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. Here are the top findings: 

  • People in western and northern Europe are particularly hawkish. 
  • Sweden comes top on that front, followed by Germany, France, the UK, and the Czech Republic. 
  • Only Russian and Serbian respondents trust China more than they trust the EU and the U.S.

But a more gloomy note comes in a new survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations of eleven big European countries. Six out of ten respondents believe that China will be more powerful than the US within a decade and would want their country to stay neutral in a conflict between the two superpowers. Southerners are much cooler towards the US and its chances than the northerners. 

Also unsettling are the findings in Globsec Trends on views of China (and Russia) in selected central and eastern European countries. Security worries are declining and moral equivalence is rife.

Only in the Czech Republic does a majority of the population (51%) see China as a threat. But 62% of Poles, the highest percentage in the region, blame China for the pandemic.

Poland’s highest court saved a Falun Gong practitioner from extradition to China. Li Zhihui, a Chinese-born Swedish citizen accused of financial crimes, was detained at Warsaw airport on an Interpol notice almost two years ago. Sweden and human rights groups had championed his case. 

Why it matters: Extradition is a powerful tactic against dissidents. It works only in countries that ignore the Chinese criminal justice system’s role as a political figleaf for repression. More countries — and Interpol — should follow Poland’s example.

Commercial secret: That’s how many German universities responded to a question about how much money they take from China. Now David Missal, a journalist and China-watcher, is suing the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz for answers.  More on his campaign here (in German) and his Crowdfunder (with summary in English) here — he needs money because some universities say they will provide the data only for a “processing fee.” 

Why it matters: Even the most storied universities seem to be drifting under the control of the Chinese Communist party. This story about academic self-censorship at Princeton is a reminder and here is another story that shows that it’s a worry in Britain too.

Sweden began its auction of 5G frequencies, despite protests from Huawei which is suing the regulator for excluding it from the new network. The Global Times published a reproving article blaming “unwise political manipulation under US influence”. Elisabeth Braw has a timely piece in Prospect magazine about China’s grip on the International Telecommunications Union — and the need to set 6G standards early.  

Huawei, no longer able to offer Google Newsfeed on its devices, is building a news aggregator for its mobile customers in Germany. The service won’t be touched by Chinese propaganda or censorship, the company insists. We will be scouring it for news on hot-potato topics such as Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen Square! 

What we’re reading: Didi Kirsten Tatlow’s piece for the International Centre for Defence and Security think tank in Tallinn, Estonia explains how a Chinese state-owned “security solutions” firm, Nuctech, monitors cargo crossing the NATO border with Russia using a radiation-based technology originally copied from Europe. Check out Didi’s new book too, on “China’s Quest for Foreign Technology.”

Finally, a correction: Last week’s monitor mistakenly said the upcoming 17+1 summit would be in Prague. In fact, it will be hosted in Beijing — the question in Prague is about who will (virtually) represent the Czech Republic. We’re tracking participation in this controversial Chinese-led infrastructure beauty contest: options range from sending a head of state (which China wants) through to a junior transport minister (our suggestion). We apologize for the error. 

That’s it for this week — we will be back in your inboxes next Thursday.

Best regards