Communist China Seeks to Influence European Elections Amid Tensions With US: Report

Almost 400 million voters across Europe will head to the polls this week to choose lawmakers to represent them in the European Parliament.The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) became “increasingly sophisticated and active” in its efforts to influence European elections and policy making, a Czech study has found.“China, though newer to electoral interference in Europe compared to Russia, is increasingly sophisticated and active in its attempts to influence European elections and decision-making through various means, including political influence, information manipulation, bribery and espionage,” researchers said in a recent report from the Association for International Affairs, a Prague-based think tank.The study comes just days before the European Parliament election. Almost 400 million voters across Europe are preparing to head to the polls from June 6 to 9 to choose lawmakers to represent them in the European Parliament for the next five years.The results of the election could “reshape the political landscape, potentially leading to a shift in attitudes toward China and a reluctance to confront the challenges posed by foreign interference in democratic processes,” stated the report authored by Kara Nemeckova and Ivana Karaskova. Ms. Karaskova served as a special adviser to the vice president of the European Commission and a commissioner for values and transparency, Vera Jourova.Brussels’ role has become more crucial for the Chinese regime amid rising tensions in its relationship with Washington. The CCP “needs access to the European market to stimulate its economic growth,” the report states. “Sustaining market access is not only crucial for selling goods but also for gaining access to European technologies, which are vital for China’s technological advancement.”The CCP also believes that the EU could align more closely with its geopolitical interests if the 27-nation bloc reduced its reliance on the United States, the report says.‘Ever-expanding’ Election Intervention TechniquesOver the past decade, the CCP has engaged in cyber-enabled interventions in “no fewer than 10 elections in seven distinct countries,” mainly focused on the Asia-Pacific region, according to an August 2020 study by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The CCP has sought to hack into voter databases, breach parliament servers, or conduct spear-phishing attacks against candidates and campaign staff to gather intelligence, the researchers found.Related StoriesWith the Chinese communist regime’s “increasingly sophisticated expertise and operational acumen, there is growing evidence to suggest that it is actively seeking to influence European elections and decision-making,” according to the latest Czech report.These efforts include a “complex and ever-expanding” array of techniques utilized by the CCP, from leveraging political influence through fostering party-to-party dialogues, to “engaging in information manipulation and acts of bribery and espionage.”In one high-profile case, the CCP warned that the Czech Republic’s then-Senate speaker Milos Vystrcil would pay a “heavy price“ for visiting democratic Taiwan in August 2020.Chinese hacking group APT31Among the recent revelations was the extensive cyber attacks by a CCP-backed group identified as APT31. According to U.S. prosecutors, the hackers targeted a broad swath of officials, lawmakers, and businesses across the world for more than a decade because they were deemed to be critical of the CCP.U.S. officials say the cyber espionage campaign targets all European Union members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a coalition of global lawmakers focused on constructing a coordinated response to challenges posed by the Chinese communist regime.Czech Senate speaker Milos Vystrcil delivers a speech at the parliament in Taipei, Taiwan, on September 1, 2020. (Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images)In addition to pressuring lawmakers, the regime has sought to shape European public opinion through sophisticated propaganda campaigns on both traditional outlets and social media platforms, according to the report. It cited a 2022 study by Sarah Cook, an independent researcher focused on China, highlighting that the CCP has engaged in ever-expanding campaigns to promote narratives aligned with its interests.CCP-linked actors strive to “present China’s authoritarian regime as benign,” “promote China as a model for governance and information management in developing countries,” and “encourage openness to Chinese financing and investment,” Ms. Cook wrote in the research published in the Journal of Democracy.The CCP-linked actors also use media platforms to suppress criticism of the regime’s domestic policies and activities of China-linked entities abroad and “to win foreign policymakers’ vocal support for the regime’s positions” on issues such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang, and Falun Gong practitioners, she wrote.EU ‘Particularly Susceptible’The report cited a January projection by the European C

Communist China Seeks to Influence European Elections Amid Tensions With US: Report

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Almost 400 million voters across Europe will head to the polls this week to choose lawmakers to represent them in the European Parliament.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) became “increasingly sophisticated and active” in its efforts to influence European elections and policy making, a Czech study has found.

“China, though newer to electoral interference in Europe compared to Russia, is increasingly sophisticated and active in its attempts to influence European elections and decision-making through various means, including political influence, information manipulation, bribery and espionage,” researchers said in a recent report from the Association for International Affairs, a Prague-based think tank.

The study comes just days before the European Parliament election. Almost 400 million voters across Europe are preparing to head to the polls from June 6 to 9 to choose lawmakers to represent them in the European Parliament for the next five years.

The results of the election could “reshape the political landscape, potentially leading to a shift in attitudes toward China and a reluctance to confront the challenges posed by foreign interference in democratic processes,” stated the report authored by Kara Nemeckova and Ivana Karaskova. Ms. Karaskova served as a special adviser to the vice president of the European Commission and a commissioner for values and transparency, Vera Jourova.

Brussels’ role has become more crucial for the Chinese regime amid rising tensions in its relationship with Washington. The CCP “needs access to the European market to stimulate its economic growth,” the report states. “Sustaining market access is not only crucial for selling goods but also for gaining access to European technologies, which are vital for China’s technological advancement.”

The CCP also believes that the EU could align more closely with its geopolitical interests if the 27-nation bloc reduced its reliance on the United States, the report says.
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‘Ever-expanding’ Election Intervention Techniques

Over the past decade, the CCP has engaged in cyber-enabled interventions in “no fewer than 10 elections in seven distinct countries,” mainly focused on the Asia-Pacific region, according to an August 2020 study by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The CCP has sought to hack into voter databases, breach parliament servers, or conduct spear-phishing attacks against candidates and campaign staff to gather intelligence, the researchers found.

With the Chinese communist regime’s “increasingly sophisticated expertise and operational acumen, there is growing evidence to suggest that it is actively seeking to influence European elections and decision-making,” according to the latest Czech report.

These efforts include a “complex and ever-expanding” array of techniques utilized by the CCP, from leveraging political influence through fostering party-to-party dialogues, to “engaging in information manipulation and acts of bribery and espionage.”

In one high-profile case, the CCP warned that the Czech Republic’s then-Senate speaker Milos Vystrcil would pay a “heavy price“ for visiting democratic Taiwan in August 2020.
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Chinese hacking group APT31

Among the recent revelations was the extensive cyber attacks by a CCP-backed group identified as APT31. According to U.S. prosecutors, the hackers targeted a broad swath of officials, lawmakers, and businesses across the world for more than a decade because they were deemed to be critical of the CCP.

U.S. officials say the cyber espionage campaign targets all European Union members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a coalition of global lawmakers focused on constructing a coordinated response to challenges posed by the Chinese communist regime.

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Czech Senate speaker Milos Vystrcil delivers a speech at the parliament in Taipei, Taiwan, on September 1, 2020. (Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images)
Czech Senate speaker Milos Vystrcil delivers a speech at the parliament in Taipei, Taiwan, on September 1, 2020. (Sam Yeh/AFP via Getty Images)

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In addition to pressuring lawmakers, the regime has sought to shape European public opinion through sophisticated propaganda campaigns on both traditional outlets and social media platforms, according to the report. It cited a 2022 study by Sarah Cook, an independent researcher focused on China, highlighting that the CCP has engaged in ever-expanding campaigns to promote narratives aligned with its interests.
CCP-linked actors strive to “present China’s authoritarian regime as benign,” “promote China as a model for governance and information management in developing countries,” and “encourage openness to Chinese financing and investment,” Ms. Cook wrote in the research published in the Journal of Democracy.
The CCP-linked actors also use media platforms to suppress criticism of the regime’s domestic policies and activities of China-linked entities abroad and “to win foreign policymakers’ vocal support for the regime’s positions” on issues such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang, and Falun Gong practitioners, she wrote.
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EU ‘Particularly Susceptible’

The report cited a January projection by the European Council on Foreign Relations, suggesting that hard-right groups could emerge as the major winners of the 2024 European elections. The Identity and Democracy (ID) parliamentary group is projected to increase its representation from 59 to 98 seats and become the third-largest political grouping in the European Parliament.

The Czech report found that the CCP has focused on engaging with previously marginalized right-wing forces in an effort to expand its influence in the EU’s policy-making.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD), previously part of the ID group in the European Parliament, sent a high-rank delegation to China in June 2023 in response to an official invitation. The AfD’s co-leader, Alice Weidel, a fluent Mandarin speaker, spent almost a week in Beijing and Shanghai, accompanied by Peter Felser, AfD’s foreign policy spokesperson, and Petr Bystron, a candidate in the EU election.

The German party made headlines in recent weeks as an aide to its member of the European Parliament (MEP) was arrested over China spy claims.

German prosecutors accused a longtime aide to MEP Maximilian Krah of passing on discussions and decisions in the assembly to a CCP intelligence agency. The aide also allegedly works for the regime’s secret service and spies on Chinese dissidents in Germany, officials said in an April 22 statement.
In the wake of the China spy allegations, and Mr. Krah’s controversial comments about the Nazi paramilitary group SS (Schutzstaffel), Mr. Krah announced on May 22 that he would stop his campaign for the EU election and step down from AfD’s leadership.
ID ejected AfD from the group on May 23. AfD moved to become “non-inscrits,” or non-attached members, meaning they no longer belong to one of the recognized political groups in the parliament.
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Maximilian Krah, member of the European Parliament for the Alternative for Germany (AfD) political party, speaks to supporters in Dresden, Germany, on May 1, 2024.  (Maja Hitij/Getty Images)
Maximilian Krah, member of the European Parliament for the Alternative for Germany (AfD) political party, speaks to supporters in Dresden, Germany, on May 1, 2024.  (Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

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The report found that it’s not only right-wing politicians who have been courted by the CCP, but also those from left-wing parties.

One example highlighted in the research is the CCP’s regular engagement with the leader of Germany’s Die Linke. The party is a member of The Left coalition group in the European Parliament and is projected to gain seats in this week’s election.

When Liu Jianchao, director of the CCP’s International Department, visited Germany in October 2023, Die Linke’s chairman Martin Schirdewan had a meeting with the senior Chinese diplomat in Berlin.

According to the report, the department’s work is aimed at “promoting core foreign policy interests” of the CCP, such as “international isolation of Taiwan, fending off international criticism concerning Tibet and Xinjiang, and promoting territorial claims in the South China Sea,” while legitimizing the party’s rule domestically as well as internationally.

According to the International Department’s website, Mr. Schirdewan also sent congratulations to the CCP celebrated as it celebrated its 100-year anniversary in July 2021.

“The European Parliament seems particularly susceptible to security risks,” the report reads. While there is increasing attention to these issues, “the results of the June elections may usher in a different political setting, one which may not be ready to address challenges stemming from foreign interference in democratic processes or be critical of China,” the report concludes.

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