Plášek: The Balkan Countries are Good Target for China and its Harmful Influence

David Plášek is the lead analyst of the Red Watch Program of the European Values think-tank from Prague. He is a PhD candidate at Charles University in Prague and one of the rare scientists studying Chinese propaganda in Europe. The Balkans is an interesting target for this authoritative propaganda

David Plášek is the lead analyst of the Red Watch Program of the European Values think-tank from Prague. He is a PhD candidate at Charles University in Prague and one of the rare scientists studying Chinese propaganda in Europe. The Balkans is an interesting target for this authoritative propaganda

David Plášek is the lead analyst of the Red Watch Program of the European Values think-tank from Prague. He is a PhD candidate at Charles University in Prague and one of the rare scientists studying Chinese propaganda in Europe. The Balkans is an interesting target for this authoritative propaganda

Author: Goran Lefkov

Recently, Chinese propaganda started to spread in Europe through several fields of activities. In some places, it even happens in parallel or copies the Russian propaganda tactics, while in other cases it instills its own models and methods. With the beginning of the war in Ukraine, China’s influence in the Balkans and its needfulness in this direction have increased. China is present with investments in the infrastructure in almost all Balkan countries and therefore Truthmeter decided to interview Plášek.


What are the activities of the Chinese propaganda in Eastern Europe and what are its particularities in North Macedonia?
North Macedonia, just like Serbia and the other Balkan countries, is a good target for China. These countries are not members of the European Union, nevertheless some are NATO member-states, so they can monitor what NATO does in the Balkan region.

Chinese propaganda varies in different countries of Southeast Europe, but in general, this propaganda has expanded. So far, Russian propaganda was strong, while China was trying to establish itself economically. There are many Russian Internet and information platforms, but there is still no Chinese platform or Chinese media outlet in Southeast Europe. China is learning and trying to copy the Russian propaganda, but it is far away from the installations that the Russians have in Europe. For the time being – from what we can notice – there are a few Czech companies that cooperate with Chinese companies. They were given more business deals, they were expanded and at the moment when they became large, they started to pressure them to become their instruments to push the Czech government into fulfilling Chinese interests. We have large companies like PPF that went through this route and later, they started to exert pressure on the Czech and other governments to act in favour of Chinese interests.


How much is the region exposed to Chinese video surveillance technology?
This issue is gaining importance. About a year ago, the Czech government banned the use of TikTok on the phones of the government employees, and – as far as I know – private companies also banned the use of TikTok on company phones.

As you already know, the European Commission also banned TikTok. Some time ago, the Czech government used Huawei technology and telephones, but recently the Czech Cybersecurity Bureau banned Huawei as a provider.


How dangerous are the Chinese loans for the infrastructure? What is the degree of corruption in these projects?
Almost all Chinese projects on the Balkans are subject to corruption. In our region – Central Europe – infrastructure projects from China do not exist, but we have Huawei and technology companies, making corruption present in our case, as well.


To what extent is the Chinese university in Budapest used for spreading Red Chinese propaganda?
Chinese academic activity in Europe definitely poses a problem. Honestly, for the time being, I think that their propaganda is not that big. A much bigger problem is the access to scientific activities at European universities by Chinese scientists. There is great cooperation between Chinese and European scientists and the problem is that the Chinese scientists are paid by the Chinese government to establish cooperation with European scientists. Confucius Institutes in the Czech Republic are much more problematic, because they are part of the Western Czech and Slovak universities, even if they are paid from China and their employees are Chinese subjects who need to comply with Chinese laws. They use their employees for espionage, but also for disseminating propaganda. They are also republishing Chinese communist books etc. These employees have access to databases of European universities and they take over or can hack these databases later on. This way they can acquire knowledge much faster than just by developing it in China – so, practically they are stealing knowledge. They can utilize Hungarian universities as an open door to the European academic community and that is a big problem.

For me, the dissemination of propaganda from the university in Budapest is a smaller problem than the possibility compared to abuse this university to access the European academic community and to steal knowledge and accomplishments of the European universities and scientists.


How advanced is China’s “Silk Road” infrastructure project?
The war in Ukraine increased the significance of the Balkans for this project. Previously, the main railway lines of this Chinese project, via Russia, passed through Ukraine. Now, this route is discontinued and the Chinese now need a connection through the Balkans.

The second aspect of the war in Ukraine is the fact that the Chinese are playing a role of a mediator in the war in Ukraine, hoping to participate in its reconstruction in the aftermath.


The Safeguard Defenders NGO from Spain reported that the Chinese government established over 100 illegal police stations outside China. Half of them are in Europe. How dangerous are these police stations on European soil?
I have been researching this issue for quite some time. In Germany, there are more than 17 police stations, 2 in the Czech Republic, but there are also others all over Europe. I think Greece has 1-2 police stations. What is most worrisome is the fact that these police stations are not part of the Chinese Embassies throughout Europe, but are stationed in the seats of Chinese companies and in the dwellings of individuals in the entire European Union. This violates every diplomatic rule. Such structures and bodies should be within the framework of the embassies, not in private houses and company seats. There is a regular way how to resolve this. For example, if there are many Chinese tourists in Italy and the Chinese government is concerned about their security, it can request from the Italian authorities to organize joint Italian-Chinese patrols in places with a risk to the security of these tourists.

These police stations were organized and installed by the China provinces. We found the first activity-related information on the websites of these provinces. Once discovered, they claimed that the people working in these stations were police officers. Later, however, Chinese authorities renamed them – from police officers into assistants – or some other similar title for the same people.

The message sent with these police stations is that if one escapes from China, the hand of the Communist Party is so long, stretching all over the world, and that it will find you, wherever you are. We have examples of these police officers threatening Chinese citizens that something will happen to their close relatives if they did not return to China.

The idea that foreign police forces operate on your territory is amazing, not to say crazy.

I remember a case in Bucharest when a Chinese tourist was raped and had her purse stolen. She did not report the case to the Romanian Police, but went to the Chinese Police station in Bucharest. The Chinese Police managed to get the surveillance camera from the shop where her purse was stolen, found the thief and successfully returned the purse. They published this on the Chinese websites in Chinese language. They were acting illegally in Romania, and failed to inform the Romanian Police, which is serious meddling in the sovereignty of Romania.

A month ago, the Chinese police station in Prague was closed down. The Minister of Foreign Affairs had to send a Note to the Chinese Ambassador so that such illegal activities will cease on the territory of the Czech Republic.


How big is the danger for the foreign students who completed their higher education in China to be abused for spreading the propaganda of the Chinese Communist Party in Europe?
In practice, we have cases of Ph.D. candidates at Chinese universities receiving fellowships to publish some insignificant scientific work. In fact, with these works, they are concealing the actual reason for taking money and the debtor-creditor relations established thereby. Many students studying Chinese at Western universities need to visit or live in the country in order to be good in their field of expertise. Once they go there, or in order to go there, they must establish self-censorship, because otherwise the Chinese authorities will not permit their stay in China. One can expect those same students to join the Chinese propaganda machinery for the purpose of advancing in their vocations and building a scientific career.

The Czech Foreign Ministry published a handbook for students who want to study in China and about its affairs, especially for students of technical and information sciences.


What is the role of the influencers using YouTube to disseminate Chinese propaganda?
These are rare cases in Southeast Europe. I have not found such a channel in the Czech Republic, but Chinese propaganda is not present just on YouTube. In the USA, there are many YouTube accounts where influencers, for instance, teach Chinese language and spread Chinese propaganda. Quite often they are paid by the Chinese government. In Europe, especially in Eastern Europe, that is not the case. Maybe this is due to the language we speak, i.e., they require more time to learn Slavic languages in order to instruct our citizens in Chinese language.

What is happening in Western Europe is that China is paying famous YouTubers to say something good about China or to produce some kind of program about China. I have seen such cases in my research.



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