Dear reader,

The EU and China exchange sanctions, Hungary moves ahead in vaccinations using "Eastern vaccines", China maintains its access to EU media, Friends of Free Russia platform is established in Czechia, and much more in this edition of the newsletter.  

The EU passes the first sanctions on China since the Tiananmen aftermath. Making use of its Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime for the second time, the EU foreign ministers approved sanctions against four Chinese officials and one entity implicated in the systematic abuse of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The significant move marks the first sanctions since the arms embargo imposed by the EU after the bloody crackdown on the protests in China in 1989.

An uneasy consensus of member states was achieved, despite after-the-fact disparaging comments by Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó. Still, the EU stopped short of sanctioning Chen Quanguo, the Party Secretary of Xinjiang, who is arguably the one person most responsible for the massive human rights violations in this region. This omission was most likely motivated by efforts to mitigate the fallout of sanctions on bilateral relations with China.

Beijing has announced retaliatory moves shortly after the approval of EU sanctions. Despite the EU's damage mitigation efforts, China’s counter-sanctions have been widely perceived as escalating tensions. Apart from targeting eight outspoken MEPs and member states' MPs across different party groups, the sanctions also target two individual researchers and four institutions, including two EU bodies and two NGOs. One sanctioned EU body is the Political and Security Committee of the Council of the EU, which consists of member states' ambassadors to Brussels. The sanctioned individuals and even their relatives are prohibited from entering China, Hong Kong, and Macao of China and are restricted from doing business with China.

The series of sanctions may usher in a completely new landscape for EU-China relations. China's decision to go beyond the scope of tit-for-tat political sanctions and target independent researchers and organizations only adds gravity to the argument that China is a fundamental threat to free societies in Europe. The Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), which the European Parliament is currently deliberating on, also seems to be in grave jeopardy. The S&D group in the European Parliament has already conditioned progress on CAI by Beijing withdrawing the sanctions.

  • CAI reinforces the imbalance in media openness between China and the EU. The market access annexes of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment have been published. According to the EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis "CAI will help to level the playing field and provide more market openings for EU companies and investors". The statement could be challenged on several grounds, but one area where no reciprocity will clearly be achieved is the media sector. While China severely limits access to its media sector to European and other companies, it has much bigger freedom to acquire local media in Europe. The Politico report on the issue quotes the previous research of MapInfluenCE that has demonstrated that acquisition by Chinese capital led to exclusively positive coverage of China. Thanks to MapInfluenCE advocacy, media has been included in the EU investment screening mechanism and Czech national screening mechanism. However, the existing protections still have many loopholes. To read more on this pivotal issue, read also the last year‘s policy paper by Ivana Karásková and Matej Šimalčík. Ivana also presented on the issue in the Czech Senate this Tuesday.

  • Hungary moves ahead with vaccinations with "Eastern vaccines". The Hungarian government has released contracts for the purchase of Russian and Chinese vaccines. As it turns out, Hungary paid €30 per dose of the Sinopharm vaccine, a significantly higher price than those of "Western vaccines" as well as Sputnik V vaccine, and also more than countries like Peru have paid for the same vaccine. Along with Slovakia, Hungary circumvented the joint EU mechanism and acquired five million doses of Sinopharm and two million doses of Sputnik V vaccine. The high price of the Sinpharm vaccine seems to be explained by the Hungarian government not buying directly from China, choosing a middleman instead—a shady company with unclear ownership. On Monday, Hungary also approved another Chinese CanSino Biologics vaccine and Covishield, the Indian version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, for emergency use. Partly owing to these purchases, Hungary has ranked among the top among European countries in terms of vaccination speed, even while the pandemic situation in the country remains worrying. As of now, it is still not clear whether Hungary will be followed by other EU countries in turning to the Chinese vaccine. While the issue of providing Sinopharm vaccines has been brought up in high-level talks between Warsaw and Beijing, no concrete deal is on the table. In Czechia, President Zeman has claimed that he requested the Sinopharm vaccine from Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Chinese side acceded to his request. However, Czech authorities have indicated they are not currently negotiating any kind of deal with Beijing. More curiously, no official mention of the vaccine issue has come from Chinese official channels.

  • Friends of Free Russia platform launched in Czechia. Last week, a new informal platform of Friends of Free Russia was launched in the Czech Parliament by a group of ten deputies, eight senators, and a number of civil society organizations. MapInfluenCE Russia research coordinator Pavel Havlíček contributed significantly to the establishment of the platform. The initiative is aimed at supporting the free and democratically-minded Russian citizens via advocacy, solidarity, and awareness-raising activities in Czechia as well as on the international stage. This Monday, the coalition was also introduced at the EU level when it co-hosted its first event together with the European Parliament and Friends of European Russia Forum chaired by MEP Andrius Kubilius. The parliamentary dimension of the EU policy on Russia was also discussed by parliamentarians from France, Poland, Lithuania as well as Czechia, and the representatives of the Russian opposition. A new initiative of inter-parliamentary cooperation on Russia should complement the official level of relations between the EU and Russia, which is set to be debated during the upcoming EU Council. It is expected that the EU leaders will review the bilateral ties and propose a new approach towards Moscow.

  • Ivana Karásková debated the relations of China, Japan and South Korea with the Visegrad 4 nations at a debate organized by the Hungarian IFAT institute (watch here).
  • Matej Šimalčík wrote for our sister project CHOICE on how one Slovak university‘s cooperation with Huawei shows that Slovak universities ignore their "China problem"(read here).
  • Czech diplomats were among the representatives of more than 20 countries that showed up to express solidarity with Canadian Michael Skovrig facing trial on trumped-up espionage charges in China. Slovakia and Poland did not send their representatives, despite prior support for declaration against arbitrary detention sponsored by Canada. Most conspicuous, even if not surprising, is the lack of support from Hungary, as Kovrig also holds Hungarian citizenship (read here).

  • The Czech Chamber of Deputies' Foreign Affairs Committee asked the Czech government to take a "clear and principled stance on gross violation of human rights in Xinjiang" (read here).

  • Matej Šimalčík talked about Chinese information operations in Central Europe at the discussion organized by CEPA (watch here).

  • Pavel Havlíček talked about the defense of NATO‘s Eastern flank at the Atlantic Forum discussion (watch here). 

  • MapInfluenCE Russia analyst Dominik Istrate argues that the Czech Dukovany nuclear project shares many similarities with the Paks II project in Hungary as a vital element of Russia‘s influence efforts in the region (read here).

Do you like our newsletter? Is there something you would like us to improve or is there something we are missing? Hit us up with your suggestions. Feedback is always welcome!

Best regards

Filip Šebok
Project Manager of MapInfluenCE

Newsletter editor: Filip Šebok

Contributions from: Pavel Havlíček

@MapInfluenCE and #MapInfluenCE








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