EU and China clash over article mentioning origin of coronavirus

The EU has accused China of censoring an article that was cosigned by its ambassador and published in state-controlled media, in the latest spat between Beijing and the west over the origins of the coronavirus.

The opinion piece, which was cosigned by Nicolas Chapuis, the bloc’s ambassador to China and featured in the state-backed China Daily, removed a reference to the coronavirus outbreak starting in China.

“It is of course regrettable to see that the sentence about the spread of the virus has been edited,” Mr Chapuis said on Thursday. 

The part of the article that was removed, which pointed to China as the origin of the crisis, read “ . . . the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, and its subsequent spread to the rest of the world”. The editorial, which was published on Wednesday, was cosigned by the ambassadors to China of the EU member states.

The censorship is the latest example of Beijing’s efforts to fight back against accusations it mishandled the early days of the pandemic, which is believed to have started in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

The US and China have clashed in recent weeks over control of the global narrative on the outbreak. President Donald Trump has insisted the virus leaked from a lab in Wuhan while Chinese diplomats have promoted the theory that the virus was planted in Wuhan by the US military last year.

Following Washington’s lead, the EU said this week that it would support a resolution on an independent review into the origin and spread of coronavirus when the World Health Assembly convenes this month.

However, China has said it would not allow such a review on its soil until “final victory” was declared over the outbreak.

Coronavirus business update

How is coronavirus taking its toll on markets, business, and our everyday lives and workplaces? Stay briefed with our coronavirus newsletter.

Sign up here

Last week, China reacted furiously to an Australian call for an independent inquiry. Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, said an inquiry into a virus that had caused more than 250,000 deaths was “entirely reasonable”.

China was accused in April of pressuring the EU to tone down a report on disinformation within the EU, something European diplomats have denied.

European complaints about the censored editorial in the China Daily first emerged on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Mr Chapuis said the bloc was also concerned over the rise of disinformation in Europe connected to Chinese and Russian parties.

“We are documenting this and we think it should be stopped,” Mr Chapuis said.

The Financial Times has documented how videos in Chinese state media were probably manipulated to make it appear that Italians on their balconies were applauding the Chinese national anthem.