Germany blasts Hungary; Ericsson humiliated; Olympic dilemmas

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.

Germany lashed out at Hungary’s “incomprehensible” decision to block a common EU stance on China’s crackdown in Hong Kong. Actually, Hungary could hardly be clearer: foreign minister Péter Szijjártó says sanctions are “pointless, self-aggrandizing and harmful” and that the EU has already criticized China eight times fruitlessly; a ninth statement would be “pointless.”

Other EU members are now thinking of sidelining Hungary — which will reduce the Magyars’ importance for China. Remember: decision-makers in Beijing care much more about the big, rich countries of Western Europe than they do about the opportunists in their East European fan club.

Germany and the UK are “gang members in the US bloc,” said the Global Times, as China tried to douse attendance at a UN human-rights meeting on repression in Xinjiang this week. Germany said sponsors had faced “massive threats.” UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet drew criticism by staying away. The other sponsors were: Albania, Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, New Zealand, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Slovakia and Sweden. But at least 29 other countries took part, the organizers say, including a welcome sprinkling of Latin American and Muslim countries. Join the gang.

The Copenhagen Democracy Summit hosted Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen — prompting the usual howls. “Splittist” forces are “bound to fail,” said the Chinese embassy in Denmark. So why the fuss? It’s hard to argue that your foes are both doomed and terribly dangerous.

Elsewhere, Europe’s slow shift of opinion continues. Slovakia backed US calls for Taiwan to take part in the World Health Assembly. Italy says the EU’s relationship with China must be more “balanced.”

It’s another story in Central Asia. Wang Yi hosted his foreign-minster counterparts from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. China is urgently seeking more gas from Turkmenistan as it replaces imports from Australia. Kazakhstan is harassing refugees from China. We’ll keep you posted.


Corporate sponsors of the 2022 Winter Olympics are squirming. Take part, and attract international opprobrium. Pull out, and lose the Chinese market. Sweden’s H&M clothing giant has just seen its market share gobbled by Japan’s Muji, which highlights its use of cotton from the Xinjiang hellhole that H&M dared to criticize.

The Financial Times quizzed 13 top sponsors. Two — Omega and Allianz — justified it. Eleven stayed mute: Airbnb, Alibaba, Atos, Bridgestone, Coca-Cola, Intel, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Toyota and Visa. They will have to answer sometime.

Belgian spy-catchers worry about Chinese intelligence access to Liege airport, which is Alibaba’s main European distribution hub — and a hotspot of valuable data about individuals and freight. All Chinese companies must obey, secretly and unquestioningly, instructions from state security, the justice minister noted. Slander and invention, sputters the Chinese embassy in Belgium.

Ericsson will face sanctions in China if Sweden bans Huawei. The blunt warning is a poor return on chief executive Börje Ekholm’s groveling attempts to lobby on Beijing’s behalf. The Swedish telecoms boss could have kept his self respect for the same result.

Remember our report on China’s cunning use of tiny Liechtenstein for its push into the satellite market? Now politicians are asking how selling its valuable frequencies to China is compatible with the country’s neutrality.

What we’re reading 

  • I reviewed Chief Witness, a harrowing insider account of China’s gulag. The use of forced labor in Apple’s supply chain is coming under scrutiny, while the New York Times uncovers forced sterilization. Adrian Zenz has analyzed demographic data to show the genocide of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims. The new census shows how China’s population timebomb is ticking.
  • Huge numbers of fake Twitter accounts were used to promote Chinese messaging. The AP investigates, with underlying Oxford University research
  • Axios uncovers China’s six-fold increase in spending on lobbying in the US.
  • NZZ (Switzerland) investigates China’s soccer politics. The party-state’s invested more than $2 billion in 20 European clubs since 2014 with disappointing results. The goal now: holding the World Cup in 2030 or 2034.
  • The new US Development Finance Corporation is pushing back against Chinese infrastructure projects in the Western Balkans. Better late than never.
  • German thinktanker Thorsten Benner on why he won’t go to China again (it signals compliance and could be dangerous).

What made us flinch: this public spat between two prominent propagandists. Firebrand Fudan University professor Shen Yi mocked the funeral pyres in Covid-stricken India (“the flirtatious whore”), cruelly contrasting them with China’s fiery space-rocket launches. That was too nasty even for the Global Times, normally the custodian of China’s bile stockpile. Its editor Hu Xijin said China should keep the moral high ground with the “banner of humanitarianism.” 

The response from the ivory tower: “holier-than-thou bitches” should “go to India and burn firewood.” 

What we’re watching: This thought-provoking discussion on how China uses international technical standards as vectors of influence.

Many thanks to Isobel Cockerell, Makuna Berkatsashvili, Mariam Kiparoidze, Oleksandr Ignatenko, Masho Lomashvili, Mariia Pankova and Katia Patin of Coda Story, and to Michael Newton at CEPA.

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

Best regards