A new policy paper based on research undertaken by the MapInfluenCE project reveals the evolving nature of Chinese propaganda, both overt and covert, in Central Europe. Bolstered by collaborative research across the Visegrad nations, ongoing shifts in propaganda strategy are revealed in the paper, with cyberspace becoming the battlefield of choice more and more often. As an intensification of these efforts is anticipated, the paper examines the strategy and effectiveness of China’s information warfare in Czechia, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia.
This extensive study, which has its genesis in examining the ‘damage control’ operations in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, maps the adaptations made by Chinese officials and surrogates on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. This includes a review of attempts to influence the perception of the Hong Kong protests in Central Europe prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and more standard, traditional media influences, and also analysis of where Chinese propaganda is adopting tactics of its Russian forerunners in the region.
China's propaganda and disinformation campaigns in Central Europe
Local audiences in Poland, Czechia, and Slovakia have increasingly become direct targets of not only ‘mask diplomacy’, but more complex propaganda efforts promote a positive image of China, strain transatlantic relations, and directly attempt to rewrite narratives around sensitive issues.
The direct aim at Central Europe marks a notable shift from the historically common focus on curating international news to domestic audiences and leaving local perception to regional proxies. Further, the lack of engagement in Hungary by Beijing displays a more focused approach, cognizant of where such disinformation tactics are unnecessary.
The jury remains out on the overall effectiveness of these novel strategies, especially as many are met with ridicule and rebuke across the region rather than acceptance. Still, as China has proven an exceptionally fast learner in adapting its external propaganda in the age of social media, the authors urge vigilance from the V4 and its partners.
Matej Šimalčík is the CEIAS Executive Director. His research looks at China’s economic and political presence and influence in Central Europe, elite relations as well as the role of European legal instruments in dealing with China.
He has a background in law (Masaryk University) and international relations (University of Groningen).
He is also a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland and a contributor to the European Think-tank Network on China (ETNC) and MapInfluenCE initiatives. Between April and September 2021, Matej was as a visiting EU China Policy Fellow at Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS).
Previously, he was an in-house legal counsel at the Slovak branch of Transparency International, a global anti-corruption watchdog, where he focused on promoting transparency and countering corruption in the judiciary, legal tools for countering corruption (freedom of information laws, whistleblowing, etc.), and strategic litigation in public interest cases. He also practices law in Slovakia, where he focuses mostly on competition, compliance, and administrative litigation.
Filip Šebok is a Research Fellow at CEIAS and at the Association for International Affairs (AMO) in Prague, where he works on the MapInfluenCE and CHOICE projects. Filip studied Sinology and International Relations in Czech Republic (Masaryk University, Brno) and China (Renmin University, Beijing). He also worked for Slovak think-tank STRATPOL and interned at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Slovak Embassy in Beijing.