The European Unions diplomatic service has publicly upbraided its ambassador to Beijing, saying his decision to allow Chinese censorship of an open letter signed by EU envoys was “not the right one.”
The European External Action Service (EEAS) said late Thursday that its Beijing envoy Nicolas Chapuis was wrong to allow the letter to be published after a reference to the coronavirus originating in China before spreading worldwide was removed in response to pressure from the Chinese foreign ministry.
“This decision, taken under great time pressure, was not the right one to take,” EEAS spokesperson Virginie Battu-Henriksson said. “This has been made clear to the ambassador.” But Battu-Henriksson insisted Chapuis “continues to have our confidence,” as he “is an outstanding expert of China and thus an asset for the EEAS.”
China Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, on Wednesday published a letter attributed to Chapuis and the ambassadors to China of the EUs 27 member countries calling for greater cooperation with Beijing. But the version that appeared on its website omitted a key reference to the fact the deadly pandemic originated in China and spread from there across the globe.
Battu-Henriksson said “the decision to go ahead [with the letter], with considerable reluctance, was taken locally,” adding that the ambassador did not consult with EEAS headquarters in Brussels beforehand.
Chinas censorship of the ambassadors letter triggered outrage among EU diplomats and politicians, with some calling for Chapuis to be dismissed.
“If the ambassador has indeed decided on his own responsibility to accept the censorship, then he is the wrong man for the job and must leave,” Reinhard Bütikofer, the chairman of the European Parliaments delegation for relations with China, told POLITICO. He added that “it has long been known that this EU ambassador in Beijing is relatively uncritical.”
The EUs delegation to China declined to respond directly to Bütikofers comment, but in a press statement sent to POLITICO, said it “strongly regrets that the Op-Ed was not published in its original, unedited form by the China Daily.”
The statement added that “the decision to proceed with the publication was taken by the EU Delegation due to the fact that, even without this phrase [referring to the origins and spread of the coronavirus], the Op-Ed passed key messages on a number of our priority areas to a potential audience of more than 1 billion readers.”
The incident was the second within two weeks in which the EEAS stood accused of bowing to pressure from Beijing over the coronavirus pandemic.
In late April, the diplomatic service dialed down criticism of Chinese disinformation about the coronavirus following protests from Beijing. The move triggered a furor, with the EUs foreign policy chief Josep Borrell forced to appear before the European Parliament to defend his institutions actions.
Critics have also taken aim at the EU of failing to openly address Chinas human rights record.