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EU blames China for 'huge wave' of Covid-19 disinformation

News Agencies | Updated on: 11 June 2020, 12:29 IST

The European Union has accused China of running "targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns" globally, for the first time, as the bloc set out a plan to tackle a "huge wave" of false facts about the coronavirus pandemic, The Guardian reported.

The media citing some incidents related to the accusations noted that French politicians were furious when a Chinese embassy website claimed in mid-April, at the height of Europe's pandemic, that care workers had abandoned their jobs leaving residents to die. The unnamed Chinese diplomat also claimed falsely that 80 French lawmakers had used a racist slur against the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"I believe if we have evidence we should not shy away from naming and shaming," Vera Jourova, a European Commission vice-president, told reporters.

"I strongly believe that a geopolitically strong EU can only materialise if we are assertive," Jourova added.

The more assertive stance marks a shift in the tone of Brussels from a report in March which described Chinese media narratives while focusing the spotlight on disinformation from Kremlin-backed sources. It comes after lawmakers in the European parliament accused the commission of watering down an earlier report on disinformation under pressure from China - charges EU officials strongly denied.

EU member states are grappling with measures to deal with China on a range of fronts, from foreign policy and security, to the economy. The Commission described China as a "systemic rival" in a 2019 report that was seen by many member states as marking a watershed in how the EU deals with an increasingly aggressive government in Beijing.

The Commission has further encouraged social media companies to sign a voluntary code of practice on disinformation while threatening regulation if they fail to act.

The latest report steps up demands on platforms to be more transparent in sharing data with researchers and intensify work with independent fact-checkers. "I would not like the platforms themselves to be the arbiters of truth," Jourova was quoted as saying.

The Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok has become the latest company to sign the code of practice, the Commission said, joining the likes of Facebook, Google, Twitter and Mozilla.


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First published: 11 June 2020, 12:29 IST