Borrell’s meltdown, threats in Denmark and bravery in Lithuania
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.
JABS AND JIVES
China’s vaccine diplomacy “sweeps the world,” the AP reports. It’s not game-over yet: Dave Lawler of Axios reports that the global Covax initiative will ramp up distribution this month and quickly surpass Russia and China. But for now, in Europe, China is winning the soft-power contest prompted by the pandemic. Let’s round up the usual suspects:
- Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán demonstratively having a Sinopharm jab
- Serbia so flush with Chinese (and Russian) vaccines that it is now able to offer jabs to its neighbors.
- Belarus is getting the Sinopharm vaccine.
- Azerbaijan is grateful to Beijing too.
- Montenegro is now getting Chinese supplies — and plaintively notes that it has not had a single EU dose so far.
- Ukraine has also been left stranded and awaits its Coronavac shipment.
- Poland’s president Andrzej Duda, bruised by the Biden administration’s disapproval of his ill-advised Trumpism, has asked Xi Jinping for help.
- China “immediately” responded to a Czech request for assistance, prompting this sulfurous reminder in Defense Times of past Czech misdeeds.
- Even Belgium is testing a Chinese jab!
Takeaway: EU efforts are a “shitshow”, according to Germany’s finance minister Olaf Scholz.
Josep Borrell is meant to be the EU’s top diplomat. He didn’t sound like it when he told a European Parliament committee that his staff can’t analyse or combat Chinese disinformation because, er, it’s not in the “mandate.” Watch his dismal performance (and mostly excellent questions from the MEPs) here.
There’s mystery in France where the Chinese readout of a Xi-Macron phone callspoke of “proactive discussions” on cooperation in central and eastern Europe. Macron’s flirtation with a Kremlin reset has done a lot of damage there already. Surely he’s not going to shred French credibility further by trying to strong-arm countries of the region into a kow-tow? Oddly, the Elysée take on the call made no mention of this (or of human rights).
Switzerland’s cozy financial ties with China put it on a collision course with the US — and potentially with Britain, which is negotiating a post-Brexit financial-regulation deal with the Swiss authorities. Their enthusiasm for digital central bank money(China’s latest dollar-busting financial project) means jitters in London.
Meantime, in the hawkish corner, the Dutch Parliament calls out Uyghur genocide, following the Canadian vote last week. Ireland gets annoyed about the plight of Richard O’Halloran, who’s just gone public about two years as a hostage in a business dispute. As noted in previous editions, Lithuania is leaving the 17+1 and opening an office in Taiwan. Will Estonia and Latvia be next?
WOLF – WARRIOR WATCH
The Chinese embassy in Copenhagen wins the snarl-of-the-week award with its preposterous demand that the city authorities take down a temporary sculpture celebrating the Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters. Apparently, Chinese tourists will find it “offensive”. Also, it’s a security risk. (Because the enraged visitors may attack the parliament? We’re puzzled.)
The runner-up is Ma Hui of the London embassy, for a peevish outburst about a picture caption mistake made by the Guardian.
The humor fail prize goes to Li Yang of the consulate in Rio, for failing to understandthe sarcasm of a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist who wittily defied the authorities by demonstrating (illegal) while holding a placard praising the new national security law (hard to criminalize). It reminded me of communist-era Poland’s Orange Alternative in the 1980s, who provoked official apoplexy with illegal demonstrations featuring ironic demands for higher police wages.
NEWS FROM CENTRAL ASIA
- Tajikistan is scared of China, but also depends on it. Foreign minister Sirojiddin Aslov has once again complained to his counterparts in Beijing over “provocative” Chinese media articles backing territorial claims. But that issue didn’t feature in talks between the two countries’ presidents about a Chinese vaccine delivery.
- Kyrgyzstan is worried about the debt burden from the vastly overpriced Chinese reconstruction of the Bishkek power plant. Some government critics believe that in order to balance the books the country may have to sell its big iron-ore mine (handy for China, which wants to diversify from Australian imports).
WHAT WE ARE READING
Germany: A mammoth take in Handelsblatt on China’s five-year plan for world economic dominance (link in German, paywall). And Deutsche Welle reports that German doctors who went to Portugal to give emergency pandemic support ended up working in a private luxury hospital — owned by Chinese investors.
Business: The US and EU are trying to break China’s grip on the global supply of so-called “rare earths” (these metals are actually plentiful, but costly and messy to refine). Plus: the Biden administration is moving against Chinese technology threats (a WSJ scoop, and Reuters reporting here).
Lifestyle: A Chinese tycoon’s take-over of one of Britain’s best-known golf clubs. Result: the super-rich drive out the dentists.
That’s it — many thanks to Coda Story’s Oleksandr Ignatenko, Mariam Kiparoidze, Mariia Pankova and Katia Patin.
We will be back in your inboxes next week.