Brussels: European Union officials on Thursday defended their handling of relations with China during the coronavirus pandemic, a day after the EU ambassador to Beijing allowed an opinion article about EU-Chinese relations that he co-wrote to be censored before publication in a state-run newspaper.
The censored phrase was a reference to the Chinese origins of the virus: “the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, and its subsequent spread to the rest of the world.”
The censorship marked the second time in two weeks that the European Commission’s foreign policy branch made a concession to Chinese demands to tone down criticism, after it softened elements of a leaked report that analysed Chinese coronavirus disinformation before publishing the final version.
The incidents indicate a discordant approach from Europe toward China at a moment when the continent is heading into what it expects will be the worst economic collapse in its post-World War II history.
Europe is eager for Chinese trade as an economic lifeline and seeks to hedge its bets if China manages to be the first to develop a vaccine against the virus.
But it also prides itself as a defender of liberal democracy, press freedoms and human rights – all areas where European policymakers have criticised Beijing.
“We regret that this op-ed, that this joint op-ed was not published in full by the China Daily,” European Commission spokeswoman Virginie Battu-Henriksson told reporters Thursday. “The EU delegation to China made known its concern to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China in no uncertain terms.”
It was with “considerable reluctance” that the delegation agreed to the publication of the censored article, Battu-Henriksson said. She said the EU mission in China ultimately decided that the broader benefit from publishing the messages contained within the edited version of the opinion article outweighed its unhappiness over the line’s removal.
The op-ed was published Wednesday and was co-signed by the ambassadors to China of the 27 EU member states.