Dear reader,

 

In this newsletter: Parliamentary elections in Hungary, the EU-China summit, Chinese disinformation on Ukraine, and a Slovak plan for countering hybrid threats.

Orbán's Fidesz cruised to victory in Hungarian elections this past weekend. The united opposition failed to make a significant dent in Fidesz's longstanding domination of Hungarian politics, with Orbán securing a fourth consecutive term in prime ministerial office and Fidesz maintaining a constitutional majority.

 

The fairness of the election is under dispute, although no significant irregularities on the election day itself have yet been reported officially. The OSCE observation mission noted that the campaign was “characterized by a pervasive overlap between the ruling coalition and the government”, with Fidesz also benefiting from a “lack of transparency and insufficient oversight of campaign finances.” There was also some concern about Hungarian voters abroad and the receipt of their absentee ballots.

 

No matter the circumstances, the end result is that Orbán has solidified his power. Hungarian foreign policy, including its controversial stance on Russia and China, will not see a significant course correction any time soon. On the contrary, Orbán already set the tone in his victory speech, when he listed Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelenskyy as one of the opponents that his Fidesz managed to defeat through its election victory. The ability of the government to paint the opposition as dragging Hungary into a conflict in its neighboring country appears to have resonated with the electorate. Orbán continues to chart his own course on the Russian invasion, opposing the transfer of weapons to Ukraine and further sanctions on Russian energy.

 

With Fidesz's position now secured, we might also expect that Budapest will further bolster its relationship with China. In the period before the election, it seemed that the Hungarian government was deliberately downplaying the relationship, due to related controversies that raised public ire, especially concerning the planned Fudan University Campus in Budapest. Such a low profile might not be required any longer.

 

In any case, an intensified showdown with Brussels now seems inevitable. Just two days after the election, the European Commission launched a rule-of-law disciplinary procedure against Hungary, a measure that could deprive it of EU funds. Budapests' foreign policy line that increasingly deviates from the EU mainstream will only escalate the long-brewing battle between Brussels and Budapest.

  • Ukraine dominates the agenda of the EU-China summit. There is no shortage of issues for the EU and China to discuss at a bilateral summit, including economic ties and the fate of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), human rights issues, health, and climate change, or China's pressure on Lithuania. However, the war in Ukraine largely overshadowed other issues this time. While both China and the EU have called for the war to end and for negotiations to take place, there is very little common ground beyond that superficial stance. While EU leaders emphasized the “special responsibility” that China has as a permanent member of the UN and warned about potential secondary sanctions should Beijing come to Moscow's aid, Chinese readouts, on the other hand, repeated the boilerplate statements on the “Cold War mentality”. Furthermore, President Xi Jinping called on the EU to “form its own perception of China and adopt an independent policy”, apparently dropping a hint at the EU's close ties with the US. The summit failed to make progress on the Ukraine issue, with EU's chief diplomat Josep Borrell referring to it as a “dialogue of the deaf”. Regarding bilateral relations, the discussion touched upon the reciprocal sanctions and China's coercive actions against Lithuania, emphasizing the need for cooperation in terms of climate change and tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the summit representing a crucial diplomatic effort to discuss all tense issues and potential areas for cooperation, it seems the EU's vision of China as a “systemic rival” prevailed, uncovering the growing divide between Brussels and Beijing.

  • China steps up its amplification of Russian messaging on Ukraine. As we have noted previously, China has not mirrored all Russian narratives on the war in Ukraine. In particular, Beijing has eschewed those vilifying the Ukrainian government and its people. However, it has rather enthusiastically amplified anti-Western narratives that suit its own interest. The most prominent example is disinformation about US biolabs in Ukraine, which China adopted as a regular talking point on the war. On the Bucha atrocities by the Russian army, China has largely tried to remain noncommittal, but state media have highlighted the Russian rebuttals of the crimes. For example, the Global Times suggested it was a fake ploy misused by Western media to endanger the progress of peace talks. At the same time, virulent pro-Russian rhetoric is rampant on the Chinese domestic internet, with the authorities apparently unwilling to seriously restrict it. Chinese schools and universities as well as party organizations across the country have even organized studying sessions on the “correct” understanding of the war, focused on giving credence to Russian grievances and ramping up anti-Western framing of the war. However, this position is not based on China’s sympathy for its partner. Instead, the understanding for Russia seems to stem from similar Chinese narratives about the West and its usefulness to this overarching propaganda. Namely, Chinese state media has long pontificated on alleged concerted efforts to strangle China internationally, curb its growth and overthrow the communist regime.

  • Slovak government approves Action Plan for Coordinated Countering of Hybrid Threats. The new plan sets a basis for Slovakia's ambitions in strengthening the resilience of the country against subversive activities of various actors which endanger democracy and its key principles, such as human rights and the rule of law. The core aim of this plan is to reinforce coordination among various government departments and adopt a whole-government approach to raise public awareness of hybrid threats and establish a system for strategic communication. The measures included in the plan focus on security risks related to foreign investment in critical infrastructure, media, and academic sector, and influence on election processes. One of the core principles addresses the importance of education in digital technologies and support of critical thinking in the general population, especially in raising awareness of cybersecurity. Setting a concrete set of actions for various governmental institutions, the plan comes in the context of the war in Ukraine which makes countering hybrid threats even more crucial, especially in the information space. For instance, the plan emphasizes analysis of legislative measures against the production and dissemination of disinformation. The importance of creating a sound legal basis for further steps in this regard has been driven home by the events of last weeks, when the Slovak National Security Agency blocked one of the most popular disinformation websites Hlavné správy, due to spreading pro-Russian narratives related to the invasion in Ukraine.

  • MapInfluenCE analysts Filip Šebok and Pavel Havlíček outline Russian and Chinese cooperation in the context of the war in Ukraine in Voice for CHOICE podcast (listen here).

  • Our Slovak analyst Matej Šimalčík speaks about China's economic and political presence and influence in Central Europe, as well as China's approach to Russia's war against Ukraine at CDI Talks, a discussion hosted by Center for Democratic Integrity (watch here).

  • “Despite understandable emotions and deep grievances, Ukrainians should see an ally in the democratic and anti-war Russian movement, which can ultimately end their tragedy, if Putin's regime falls,” emphasizes Pavel Havlíček in his article for Visegrad Insight (read here).

  • “Diplomatic signals coming from China are, unfortunately, often misinterpreted in the Polish and foreign media,” writes our Polish analyst Alicja Bachulska for CyberDefence24 (read here).

 

Our sister project CHOICE is organizing another Future CHOICE mentoring session designed to address the concerns and questions of aspiring China researchers. The April debate will shed more light on the effective utilization of social media, strategies for media appearances, and tips on how to best utilize each opportunity to make an impact.


Register here and join us on April 25th (CET) at 4 PM!

Best regards


Filip Šebok
Project Manager of MapInfluenCE


www.mapinfluence.eu
www.amo.cz

Newsletter editor: Filip Šebok

Contributions from: Filip Šebok, Veronika Blablová

@MapInfluenCE and #MapInfluenCE

 

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