“Foreign actors and certain third countries, in particular Russia and China, have engaged in targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns around COVID-19 in the EU, its neighbourhood and globally,” the EU’s Executive arm said in a policy paper published on Wednesday.
The EU experts added that through these practices, Russia and China are “seeking to undermine democratic debate and exacerbate social polarisation, and improve their own image in the COVID-19 context.”
Although Russia has been frequently cited as source of disinformation and propaganda, it was the first time the EU publicly named China.
“I believe if we have evidence we should not shy away from naming and shaming,” Vera Jourova, Commissioner for Values and Transparency told reporters.
The statement came as the EU’s Executive Arm presented on Wednesday its new strategy on tackling disinformation around the Coronavirus pandemic. In the policy paper issued, EU experts said they have recorded dangerous hoaxes and misleading healthcare information, conspiracy theories, illegal hate speech, attempts of consumer fraud, coordinated use of fake or inauthentic accounts, and automated bots, as part of the disinformation campaigns.
“Such coordination reveals an intention to use false or misleading information to cause harm,” the policy paper reads.
“The pandemic showed that disinformation does not only harm the health of our democracies, it also harms the health of our citizens,” Jourova added.
In late April, European lawmakers asked from the bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell to provide explanations on media reports supporting that the EU softened its report on Chinese Covid-19 disinformation, following pressure from Beijing.
Borrell admitted that Europe’s approach towards China has been “a little naive”, but the Union has since adopted a more “realistic” stance, denying however that the Union had been pressured by the Chinese government.
After a letter co-signed by EU27 ambassadors and published on China Daily on May 6, that called for greater cooperation with Beijing, but also made a reference to the Coronavirus outbreak starting in the country was censored by Beijing, Borrell said Europe will never again bow to Chinese pressure.