Switzerland’s China problem; a murder plot in Istanbul and tracking Huwaei in Europe

Edward Lucas


Europe is ready to team up with the incoming U.S. administration on containing China, says  the EU’s foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell. So what lies in store? In a (pre-election) interview Biden aide Michael Carpenter highlighted the connectivity-boosting Three Seas Initiative. The Western Balkans and Greece are obvious candidates for membership. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual for the party-state and its critics, with bullying tactics meeting (in some countries) increasing resistance.

The Netherlands and Ireland joined Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Finland in suspending extradition treaties with Hong Kong. European countries that fail to follow suit should face hard questions — particularly after the latest Chinese power grab in the supposedly autonomous territory. But the party-state is in no mood to listen to criticism. After the British MP Siobhain McDonagh put in a plea for the HK12 — the democracy activists caught fleeing Hong Kong for Taiwan — she got a scolding from the Chinese embassy in London.

Other critics get more pointed reminders. A Uyghur emigre in Turkey is in critical condition after an assassination attempt. Yusufjan Amet was released from detention camps in his occupied homeland on condition that he spied on the Uyghur diaspora. His mother is a hostage. But he broke with his Chinese case officers and began exposing their methods. At the time of the attack he was preparing to give an interview to the BBC. The Istanbul police are investigating. Another Uyghur resident of Turkey, Hamidulla Wali, is on the run in Saudi Arabia, where the authorities, together with Chinese officials, are, he says, trying to arrest and extradite him. 

Few would notice Jörg Wuttke, the head of European Chamber of Commerce in China, talking about how his members try (not very hard, many would say) to safeguard human rights. 

But while Wuttke was talking to MEPs on this, an over-zealous Chinese censor cut his internet connection. That highlighted the issue — and the lengths to which the Chinese authorities will go to stop people discussing it. Check out the Streisand effect, comrades!. 

The mainland authorities’ diplomatic quarantine around Taiwan is fraying in places. But not in others. Despite complaints from Britain and the United States and its stellar performance on public health, Taiwan was — again — excluded from the World Health Assembly, now meeting in Geneva. But the new government coalition in Lithuania agreed to “defend those fighting for freedom around the world, from Belarus to Taiwan.” The Lithuanian phrases “roar like thunder,” tweeted Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu appreciatively.

Switzerland’s China problem

Spot the red faces after a botched attempt to smear the Czech Republic’s senate speaker, Miloš Vystrčil. Emails to the Aktualne news outlet tried to place a story saying (falsely) that the country’s second-highest ranking politician had been paid $4 million for his taboo-busting visit to Taiwan in August. 

The emails were signed by Michael Winkler and Robert Mojzes, who run a Zurich-based consultancy and website (they call it a “wedside”) that publishes glowing articles about Xi Jinping’s political genius, among other hard-hitting and topical stories.

Instead of reprinting the sketchily sourced allegation, colleagues at Aktualne investigated the authors of the letter — and traced links to Chinese influence networks in the Czech Republic. 

Nothing to see here. Questioned by the Czech journalists, Mojzes appeared to backtrack, saying he and his colleague were “not personally or professionally involved in this case” and did not want to be cited as sources of the information. Clearly it’s all a terrible misunderstanding. 

Why it matters 

  • China clearly still wants revenge for the Vystrčil visit. Furious threats at the time resulted only in minor damage to cultural ties and aviation links. Nobody’s scared of a paper tiger.  
  • This is how cross-border influence ops work. You create disinformation in one place and pay someone in a second country to spread it in a third one.
  • It underlines existing fears about Chinese influence in Switzerland. 

While we’re on the subject: Czech spycatchers’ annual report highlights the threat from Chinese: 

  • Propaganda and efforts to influence media coverage
  • Misuse of academic cooperation
  • Cyberattacks 
  • State-affiliated entities creating dependencies in strategic sectors

What are other countries’ spy services doing about these threats? Hit reply anytime if you have tips, questions or feedback for us. 

Tracking Huawei 

The well-connected Chinese technology giant went to court in Sweden to halt its exclusion from the 5G auction. Nothing’s final: the ruling simply gave Huawei the right to appeal against a decision by the PTS regulator.

Most European governments are showing Huawei the door, but Ukraine signed a new cybersecurity deal on October 15, promising to work closely with the Chinese telecoms giant on cyber defense. After a public outcry the State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection scrubbed any mention of the deal from its website. Cue even more scrutiny (see Streisand effect, above). Now the agency says that the contract is in place but its explanation of the deal was misleading. Puzzled? So are we.

What I’m writing

It’s time to buy Australian wine to blunt Chinese economic warfare (in the Times, paywalled).

What we’re reading: Didi Kirsten Tatlow on ten steps Europe can take to protect its democratic security from Chinese influence operations. And Isobel Cockerell on China’s faked scientific research  

What we’re not reading: This mysteriously sourced, lengthy pro-China rant in an Austrian paper. Key quote from the Sinologist Gerd Kaminski “in recent years China has been pursuing pluralistic and open-to-the-world policies.”

What we’re looking forward to: This forthcoming investigation from the Prague-based China-watchers of Sinopsis.

What we’re watching: Geneva Forum 2020 runs to the end of this week, discussing CCP repression of religious belief, particularly in occupied Tibet.

That’s it for this week — we will be back in your inboxes next Thursday, November 19th.

Best regards

Edward Lucas