EU officials have backed a decision to accept China's censorship of a letter that ran in a Chinese newspaper. A sentence referencing China as the origin of the coronavirus outbreak was removed before publication.
The European Union on Thursday defended its decision to consent to Chinese censorship of a letter co-written by the bloc's 27 ambassadors, ahead of its publication in Chinese media.
The opinion piece appeared in China's English-language newspaper China Daily on Tuesday, but a sentence that linked the initial source of the coronavirus outbreak to China was removed.
The EU had raised "very serious concerns" about the request to censor the article. But it agreed to its publication as it meant the bloc could communicate with the Chinese audience on other key EU issues, such as climate change, human rights and the pandemic response, said EU foreign affairs spokesperson Virginie Battu-Henriksson in Brussels.
"China has state-controlled media. There is censorship, that's a fact," Battu-Henriksson said.
The EU, nevertheless, regretted that the article had not been published in full, she added.
Censored op-ed marked anniversary of EU-China relations
EU ambassadors submitted the opinion piece to mark the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the EU and China. The full version appeared on the websites of EU embassies to China.
A comparison between these and the op-ed in the China Daily showed that in the sentence beginning: "But the outbreak of the coronavirus," the following words – "in China, and its subsequent spread to the rest of the world over the past three months" – were removed in the Chinese newspaper version.
The EU External Action Service confirmed that changes were made, following media reports on Wednesday.
'Shocked' that censorship went ahead
German conservative politician Norbert Roettgen said he was "shocked" that the EU had allowed the censorship to go ahead.
"Speaking with one voice is important, but it has to reflect our shared European values and interests," he tweeted on Thursday.
But the European Commission's chief spokesman, Eric Mamer, disagreed. He said the decision to go ahead with publishing the doctored article "did not mean we consider censorship to be acceptable."
China has come under fire from the EU and the US for lack of transparency about the coronavirus pandemic that originated in the country. However, the EU was recently forced to deny reports that it caved into Chinese pressure and toned down a report on coronavirus disinformation.
kmm/dr (dpa, Reuters, AFP)