The brand new CHOICE research paper maps Chinese messaging on war in Ukraine targeting nine NATO and EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe. Our sister project CHOICE gathered nine analysts in a study of Chinese narratives produced from February 1 to April 19, 2022 by Chinese embassies, the state news agency Xinhua, the local versions of China Radio International (CRI) and other outlets in CEE countries. Interestingly, in three countries, CRI framed NATO as “Voldemort”, a pop-culture character and the main villain in the Harry Potter series. The similarity of content confirms the long-term held assumption that CRI content represents mere translations of the Chinese originals. Zooming onto the V4 countries, while China has been quite actively pursuing its narratives on the war in Czechia and Poland, Hungary and Slovakia have not seen much in terms of Chinese efforts. Interestingly, in Slovakia, China friendly narratives have again been laundered by local politicians, including MP Ľuboš Blaha. China’s portrayal of NATO and the US as the main culprits of the war, is unlikely to impact perceptions in the Central and Eastern European countries which see NATO as their security guarantor. This was also confirmed by the chilly reception of the Chinese envoy Huo Yuzhen who visited the region recently to explain China’s position on the war and explore the views on the future of the ailing 16+1 format.
The Indo-Pacific region will be one of the priorities of the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU. In April 2021, the EU adopted a strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific which delineates this region as strategically important as it is perceived as a key player in the international order and partner to address global challenges. Specifically, the EU defines seven priority areas to ramp up its presence within the region, seeking cooperation in sustainable development, green transition, ocean governance, digital governance and connectivity, security and defense and human security. In the context of the war in Ukraine, the Czech Presidency is expected to put emphasis on security related issues, as also confirmed by Libor Sečka, the Czech special envoy for the Indo-Pacific. For instance, the Czech presidency is planning a series of high-level dialogues on the Indo-Pacific region and intends to proceed with free-trade agreement talks with Indo-Pacific countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, as part of the EU efforts to diversify economic cooperation with Asian countries. Besides, the agenda for the Czech Presidency states the aim to promote connectivity, as a part of the bloc’s Global Gateway strategy, and underlines support for human rights in the region. The focus on the Indo-Pacific follows efforts seen during the current French presidency, including a February ministerial forum held in Paris. For France, the Indo-Pacific region is of enormous importance, as also explains Antoine Bondaz in the recent Voice for CHOICE podcast.
In an interview with an Italian newspaper, Pope Francis reveals details on his meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the context of the war in Ukraine. According to the Pope, Orbán mentioned that Russia intends to end the invasion of Ukraine on May 9. Since the onset of the Russian invasion to Ukraine, Pope Francis held a telephone conversation with President Zelenskyy, visited the Russian Embassy in the Vatican and mentioned the willingness to travel to Moscow to speak with Vladimir Putin. During the meeting with Orbán, the Pope also expressed appreciation for Hungary accepting Ukrainian refugees. The remarks on Russia’s intentions to terminate its activities in Ukraine suggest Budapest might have some insights into Russia’s plans. As a result, the Ukrainian Ambassador to Hungary has requested a meeting with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjártó which, as of now, has not been arranged. Moreover, the Hungarian side seems to be reluctant to share information regarding Ukrainian refugees and their condition, as Ukraine has not received any information from Budapest since April 12. Despite condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, compared to its V4 partners which are leading in the support provided to Kyiv, Hungary primarily aims to mitigate the impacts of the war on its economic and energy security. For instance, Hungary does not allow transfer of weapons through its territory and is unlikely to agree with an embargo on Russian gas. After winning the parliamentary elections, Orbán even called President Zelenskyy as one of his opponents. Consequently, the Hungarian stance further downgrades its status as a partner not only in the eyes of Ukraine but also in the whole EU and its erstwhile partners.