Wolves in Hamburg; defiance in Beijing; mystery in Warsaw

Gogi Kamushadze

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: Wolf-Warrior prizes; vaccine diplomacy update; border woes in Central Asia  

WOLF-WARRIOR WATCH

First prize this week goes to the Chinese consulate in Hamburg for unleashing the ire of the party-state on…a children’s storybook. “Ein Corona Regenbogen für Anna und Moritz,” a primer on the pandemic, dared to say that the coronavirus originated in, and first spread, in China. 

The consulate’s “solemn representations” plus vociferous complaints and threats from Chinese residents of Germany brought an instant kowtow. Carlsen Verlag is pulping the book and says a new edition will omit the offending sentence.

We asked Carlsen Verlag if it had come under commercial pressure from China. No answer. The Chinese Communist Party already keeps Hollywood on a tight leash. Book publishing is next.

Runner-up is the Chinese Foreign Ministry, for hauling in British ambassador Caroline Wilson for publishing a piece on the embassy’s WeChat account highlighting the virtues of a free press. “Full of lecturer arrogance and ideological prejudice,” the ministry said, urging Wilson “to deeply reflect on her own responsibilities, know her position, and do more things that are conducive to promoting the development of bilateral relations.”

But the formidable envoy (hardened by a bracing stint working for Boris Johnson) needs no comradely advice. She tweeted, “I stand by my article,” noting that the outgoing Chinese ambassador to the U.K. published more than 170 pieces in the British media.

VACCINE DIPLOMACY

As the EU flounders and Europeans fume, China continues to make progress. Ukraine has approved the Sinovac jab (but fined a distributor for late delivery), while the Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić greeted a vaccine shipment, saying he was “infinitely grateful” for the “huge progress” in his country’s relations with China, and highlighting new investment projects. 

But Serbia’s far from being a Chinese proxy in Europe: U.S. Special Forces were training there recently. Vučić also reiterated that his country is on a “European path.”

And more generally, vaccine diplomacy has its limits. This Financial Times roundup of the Sinopharm jab suggests that lack of transparency makes its mass adoption unlikely. 

Key quote: “Sinopharm directed requests to comment to the Communist party, which did not respond.”

Something’s up in Poland’s relations with China. Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau asked his counterpart Wang Yi for a phone call — but readouts differ. The Chinese summary highlights “important consensus” on joint efforts against the pandemic now (presumably: Chinese vaccines) and post-pandemic regional cooperation. Poland is to implement this idea “to the letter.”

If Poland is really backing China’s CEE efforts in return for badly needed vaccines that’s a shocker. But the account of the talks issued in Warsaw makes no mention of such a bargain, and pointedly mentioned Polish belief in freedom of religion, speech and assembly. 

NEWS FROM CENTRAL ASIA   

Border closures and lengthy delays caused by the pandemic mean the Belt and Road is failing to deliver on its promise of frictionless flows of people and goods. Eurasianet has a good photo essay on freezing four-day waits on the Kyrgyz border. Kazakhstan has crossly blocked exports from China because of 12,000 abandoned wagons clogging its rail network.

Meanwhile, China is upping anti-corruption ties with (deeply corrupt) Uzbekistan and has sent a career intelligence officer as new ambassador to (ultra-secretive) Turkmenistan.

BUSINESS NEWS 

  • New worries in Switzerland about China’s growing grip on the aluminium market.
  • Finland’s military has blocked a municipality from agreeing to a Chinese arctic air base.
  • China’s controversial “Peace” undersea data cable will reach France this summer.
  • More rare earth processing in Estonia may lessen China’s supply squeeze.
  • Russia and China are planning to build a moon base.

the European Parliament, the center-right EPP, has published a timely paper on China policy: “Cooperate, Compete and Confront.” Also: boost EU ties with Taiwan.

Hungary: For CEPA, Paweł Paszak highlights the poor results from a decade of “opening to the East.” In short: ”even far-reaching political and moral compromises do not translate into real economic benefits.”

Pax Sinica: Bradley Jardine’s thoughtful compare-and-contrast on Tajikistan and Cambodia. Both countries should worry. 

Values: This long academic piece by Max Roger Taylor on EU neglect of principle in diplomacy with China.

That’s it — many thanks to Coda Story’s Isobel Cockerell, Oleksandr Ignatenko, Mariam Kiparoidze, Mariia Pankova and Katia Patin, and to Michael Newton at CEPA. 

We’ll be back in your inboxes next week.

Best regards
Edward

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Edward Lucas

Edward Lucas is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). He was formerly a senior editor at The Economist. Lucas has covered Central and Eastern European affairs since 1986, writing, broadcasting, and speaking on the politics, economics, and security of the region.

A graduate of the London School of Economics and long-serving foreign correspondent in Berlin, Vienna, Moscow, and the Baltic states, he is an internationally recognized expert on espionage, subversion, the use and abuse of history, energy security and information warfare.

He is the author of four books: The New Cold War (2008, newly revised and republished); Deception (2011); The Snowden Operation (2014), and Cyberphobia (2015).

@edwardlucas