Dear reader,

In this newsletter: New MapInfluenCE study on Chinese narratives in Russian and Chinese state media in Poland, China's reaction to the Russian aggression in Ukraine, Chinese Ambassador to Prague's farewell tour, and Czech banks' ousting of Huawei.

In a brand new paper, MapInfluenCE analyst Alicja Bachulska examines two major online outlets responsible for promoting Chinese and Russian state-backed narratives in Poland. These two outlets, China Radio International (CRI) Poland and Sputnik Poland, rather obviously peddle information beneficial to their benefactors in Beijing and Moscow respectively.

In the study, Bachulska provides a brief overview of Russia and China’s activities in the Polish information space, followed by a detailed content analysis of the dataset consisting of China-related commentaries published by Sputnik Poland and CRI Poland in 2020 and 2021.

Media controlled by Beijing and Moscow appear to have similar strategic goals. Namely, they seek to promote non-democratic regimes and values underpinning them while directly or indirectly weakening the appeal of Western-style democracy in the international arena. Russia and China have actively engaged in exploiting existing tensions and splits within democratic societies to sow discontent and undermine solidarity.

Although the convergence of certain strategic interests between Moscow and Beijing is apparent, the argument that Russia and China coordinate their activities in the Western information sphere can not be confidently confirmed.

Download the full paper below to get access to all the results of the study and the associated data.

  • China reacts to Russian aggression in Ukraine. While commentators have arguably overanalyzed the support from China‘s foreign minister Wang Yi for Ukraine’s territorial integrity at the Munich Security Conference, the Chinese reaction to the rapidly evolving situation has actually followed a familiar pattern. After the Kremlin moved to recognize the separatist “republics” in Eastern Ukraine, China called for restraint on all sides and alluded to “a complex set of factors”, as well as “legitimate security interests” (implicitly referring to those of Russia) involved. While China is not directly supporting Russia, a tacit acceptance of Russia’s moves is clearly emerging. Such an approach is, however, not at all surprising. China already effectively supported Russia in its grand design for Eastern Europe in the joint statement of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping at the Beijing Olympics. Still, China must walk a fine line considering the stated principles of its foreign policy. As a result, Beijing won’t recognize the Donbas “republics” just as it did not recognize the annexation of Crimea or the independence of the previously self-declared republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. However, do not expect China to criticize Russia or join the West in any meaningful joint action, even if outright war erupting may not be in its interest.

  • Czech Banks remove Huawei technologies from their infrastructure due to security concerns. ČSOB, the largest Czech bank, has taken measures to block access to the bank’s internal systems using newer versions of phones produced by Huawei, with the intention of expanding this policy to include older models later this year. These security steps were initiated by ČSOB’s parent company KBC based in Belgium. The recommendations, therefore, apply also to branches in other European countries, including, for instance, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Hungary. KBC cites as one of the key reasons the warning issued by the Czech National Cyber and Information Security Agency (NÚKIB). In December 2018, NÚKIB based its warnings on a law requiring Chinese companies to share data with the Chinese government. Other Czech banks, such as Česká spořitelna and Moneta Money Bank, have also previously refrained from using Huawei’s components in its critical infrastructure and have taken arrangements to secure the internal systems in case their employees opt to use phones produced by Huawei. Two weeks ago, the Czech Association of Banks also signed a memorandum with NÚKIB, establishing information exchanges regarding security risks and new cybersecurity trends.

  • The Chinese Ambassador to the Czech Republic is set to depart. While there has been some speculation that Ambassador Zhang Jianmin is to be “recalled”, his tenure seems to have simply run its course. No Chinese Ambassador since 1993 has served for more than four years and Zhang has been in Prague since the second half of 2018. In Czechia, Zhang’s tenure will mostly be remembered due to the rapidly worsening Sino-Czech relations. Shortly after assuming office, Zhang became embroiled in a dispute with the former prime minister Andrej Babiš. The controversy was caused by the Chinese Embassy‘s interpretation of a meeting between the Ambassador and the Prime Minister over the security warning of the Czech cyber watchdog NÚKIB. At the time, the agency released a warning over Chinese Huawei and ZTE companies and their technologies. Zhang got under the spotlight again in early 2020, when the infamous “Chinese letter” was found after the sudden death of Senate President Jaroslav Kubera, pressuring him not to visit Taiwan. In the aftermath, new Senate president Miloš Vystrčil even called for the Chinese Ambassador to be recalled, garnering support from Babiš as well. However, Zhang's fortune changed with the onset of the pandemic, when the Chinese Embassy played the role of a middleman in securing the air bridge for antilipidemic supplies from China. Still, Zhang found himself increasingly isolated in Czechia. The Embassy has reported very few meetings with politicians or visits to Czech regions in the past few years. So far, Ambassador Zhang has only visited President Miloš Zeman and his predecessor Václav Klaus on his farewell tour, which might attest to his relative isolation. While it could be argued that Zhang mismanaged the ties, it is highly unlikely that a new ambassador will change much in the overall picture of bilateral relations with China.

  • MapInfluenCE analysts Filip Šebok and Pavel Havlíček dissected the growing ties between China and Russia in their article for our sister portal CHOICE (read here).

  • “Currently, we have no evidence of direct coordination of disinformation activities [between Russia and China], while the convergence of long-term interests seems evident,” clarified our Polish analyst on China Alicja Bachulska in an interview for CyberDefence24 (read here).
  • “Putin's speech was very long and emotional. He embarked on a number of historical excursions and also questioned Ukrainian statehood. This was probably his most anti-Ukrainian speech so far,“ said our analyst on Russia Pavel Havlíček for Český rozhlas (listen here).

  • Our analysts on China, Filip Šebok and Matej Šimalčík, gave an interview to Hospodářské noviny regarding partnerships between Czech and Slovak cities and regions with Chinese counterparts (read here). You may find their study on this topic here.

Our sister project CHOICE (China Observers in Central and Eastern Europe) has recently opened applications for the 2022 summer school titled Untangling EU-China Relations organized within the Future CHOICE initiative!

This exciting program will gather a group of aspiring young professionals and advanced university students from around the European continent. It will take place on May 27-30, 2022, in the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage town of Kutná Hora, Czech Republic, near the capital Prague.
Spots are limited so don’t forget to apply or spread the news!

All information about the project is available here.

Best regards

Filip Šebok
Project Manager of MapInfluenCE

Newsletter editor: Filip Šebok

Contributions from: Filip Šebok, Veronika Blablová

@MapInfluenCE and #MapInfluenCE








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