In Depth

EU accuses Russia and China of coronavirus ‘disinformation campaigns’

Allegation marks first time Brussels has pointed finger at Beijing

The European Union (EU) has accused both Russia and China of being behind so-called “fake news” about the Covid-19 coronavirus. 

The European Commission said in a statement that “foreign actors and certain third countries, in particular Russia and China” are engaging in “targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns in the EU, its neighbourhood, and globally”.

As The Guardian notes, “while the charge against Russia has been levelled on many occasions, this is the first time the EU executive has publicly named China as a source of disinformation”.

The “more assertive stance” reflects EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s desire for the EU to have “more clout on the world stage”, the newspaper adds.

In a policy paper published alongside the statement, the EU said its experts have recorded a huge wave of healthcare hoaxes, false claims, online scams, hate speech and Covid-19 conspiracy theories circulating online, Deutsche Welle (DW) reports.

“Such coordination [by third country actors] reveals an intention to use false or misleading information to cause harm,” the EU paper said.

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Vera Jourova, the European commissioner for values and transparency, has warned that the ongoing pandemic shows that “disinformation does not only harm the health of our democracies, it also harms the health of our citizens”.

“I believe if we have evidence, we should not shy away from naming and shaming,” she added.

The new allegations against China follows accusations that the Commission watered down an earlier report on disinformation following pressure from Beijing. EU officials have strongly denied the claim.

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