Dear reader,

 

In this newsletter: new MapInfluenCE research, China's damage control mission to Central Europe, Germany's upended “Zeitenwende” and the surprising Taiwanese investment story in Hungary.

Our analysts presented the brand new MapInfluenCE paper in Prague this week at a closed roundtable. The study thoroughly examines depictions of five China-related themes (5G, Chinese investment, democratic protests in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan) in six most popular Czech and Slovak ‘alternative’ media. In the context of the current war in Ukraine which is also inevitably waged in the information space, this paper brings crucial findings on the confluence of Chinese and Russian information operations in Central Europe. 


MapInfluenCE analysts studied almost 1500 articles in Czech and over 800 in Slovak published between January 2019 and June 2021, shedding more light on the sentiment expressed towards China, prevailing character of the articles, topics dominating the coverage and agenda-setters involved in shaping the discourse.  


Despite Chinese and Russian propaganda having different goals and using different tools, several convergences are certainly present, such as utilization of the same channels and targeting a similar audience. As identified by the MapInfluenCE's analysis, the alternative media known for their pro-Russian stance actively promote Chinese official views and quote experts and other agenda-setters from China, often to the detriment of the local expertise. Moreover, as the prevalence of the topics linked to US-China tensions suggests, the analyzed media tended to view China through the lens of the US-China relations. However, some localization of the discourse, such as the comparison of the Taiwan issue to that of Sudetenland, was also present.

 

Read the whole study for a complex look into how China is seen in the alternative media ecosystem in Czechia and Slovakia!

DOWNLOAD THE STUDY
  • China’s special envoy for cooperation with Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) Huo Yuzhen embarked on a visit to eight CEE countries, including all the V4 capitals. The apparent goal of the diplomatic mission is to explain China's position on Ukraine (including “refuting disinformation” and “clarifying misinformation” as the Chinese nationalist tabloid Global Times put it) and revive the slowly dying 16+1 cooperation format. However, in most of the visited countries, Ambassador Huo will not be greeted with enthusiasm. This was confirmed by the stop in Prague, Huo's former ambassadorial posting. The Czech Foreign Ministry communicated to the Chinese envoy Prague's “reservations regarding the current cooperation between China and Russia in the context of the war in Ukraine.” Huo also met with the representatives of the office of the President Miloš Zeman, the last remaining major supporter of close ties with Beijing on the Czech political scene. One of the issues on the agenda were the president's plans to visit China before his second term ends next year. Due to Zeman's poor health, the farewell visit looks unlikely. More broadly, Chinese position in the region seems to be rapidly deteriorating due to its tacit political support of Russia amidst the invasion of Ukraine. The most problematic part from the perspective of many CEE countries is the Chinese insistence to blame NATO for the war and criticize the Alliance's eastern enlargement. Yet, many of the nations in the region see NATO as the fundamental basis of their security and perceive China's rhetoric as questioning their independent foreign policy choices. This critical divide will make it increasingly hard for China to present itself as a neutral actor in the region, making Beijing's position here as fraught as ever. 

  • Germany hesitates in its reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. With the war in Ukraine entering its second phase centered predominantly on Donbas, there are growing expectations regarding the proclaimed “Zeitenwende” in German foreign policy. Chancellor Olaf Scholz struggles to balance the efforts to meet the expectations of both Ukraine and European partner countries, while at the same time limiting as much as possible any negative effects of the support for Ukraine on Germany. This hesitancy has also led to the cancellation of a planned visit to Kiev by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier from the Ukrainian side. However, there was more to the incident – up until recently, Steinmeier was one of the main architects of Germany's close relations with Moscow. Compared to the aid provided to Ukraine by Baltic and Central European countries, Germany ranks as a less active donor, considering the GDP of these countries. Germany's reserved stance on an embargo on Russian energy imports and refraining from sending further weapons may create a wedge in the united stance of the Western countries forged at the onset of the Russian invasion. Moreover, German officials have issued contradicting messages, with, for example, Minister of Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock calling for deliveries of heavy weapons to Ukraine and Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck warning that such a step could turn West into a Russian target. The most recent signals suggest that Germany is willing to support an exchange of weapons with Slovenia – Germany would provide twenty Marder fighting vehicles and twenty Fuchs armored personnel carriers to Slovenia which would then supply Ukraine with T-72 tanks. Germany is also supposed to pay for the training of Ukrainian troops needed to operate the tanks. 

  • Taiwanese companies continue to invest in Hungary despite close ties to Beijing. Hungary is undoubtedly one of the key political supporters of China on the EU level. Budapest’s leaning towards Beijing is only set to be reaffirmed after the reelection of Viktor Orbán's Fidesz. As a function of its close ties with China, Hungary has walked a very fine line on the issue of Taiwan, denying the island nation the support it has been given recently by some of its neighboring countries, like Slovakia or Czech Republic. Yet, despite the not-so-friendly political environment, Hungary remains an attractive destination for Taiwanese investment. Indeed, the latest investment data for 2020 showed that Hungary was the second biggest recipient of Taiwanese investment in the EU after the Netherlands. According to the research by Hungarian expert Ágnes Szunomár published on our partner project CHOICE, this shows that Taiwanese companies are mostly motivated by pragmatic considerations. In Hungary, it is the investor-friendly business environment, including low corporate tax and state investment support. What is more, as many of Taiwanese companies in Hungary are large multinationals, their investment decisions are actually often linked to those of Chinese companies, with whom they have close production linkages. While some Taiwanese companies may be motivated to invest based on political considerations, as was the case in Czech Republic, most of these are smaller businesses. In the end, the Hungarian example shows how political and business logic often goes separate ways.     

  • Leader of MapInfluenCE Ivana Karásková commented on Europe's changing attitudes towards China for The New York Times (read here).

  • Ivana Karásková also shared her thoughts regarding the potential impacts of Russia's aggression towards Ukraine on relations between China and Central and Eastern European countries in her article for Friedrich Naumann Stiftung (read here). 

  • In the MERICS Opinion Pool, Ivana Karásková contemplated the necessity for the EU to update its multifaceted China policy in the wake of the EU-China summit (read here).

  • Our Slovak analyst on China Matej Šimalčík discussed Slovak approach to China and Taiwan in the GTI Insights podcast (listen here). 

  • “As China is increasingly seen as a security risk and actor that is engaging in hybrid warfare, Slovakia should tap into the regional experience of like-minded partners to see how they respond to the various challenges posed by China,” emphasizes Matej Šimalčík in his contribution on Slovak foreign policy towards China and Taiwan (read here). 

 

Our sister project CHOICE is organizing another Future CHOICE mentoring session designed to address concerns and questions of aspiring China researchers. The April debate will shed more light on 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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