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EU report on Chinese, Russian coronavirus disinformation watered down after pressure from Beijing: reports

The language in a European Union report about Chinese and Russian coronavirus disinformation was tamped down after Beijing leaned on the regional body, according to multiple reports citing documents, emails and interviews.

The New York Times reported Friday that one EU diplomat messaged colleagues earlier in the week saying that Beijing was "threatening with reactions if the report comes out."

Politico reported Saturday that three sources confirmed to the news outlet that Chinese diplomats pressured EU officials to alter the harshness of the report. 

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According to the Times however, the first iteration of the EU's report was not particularly harsh and contained a collection of publicly available information and news reports. The report was said to contain information about China's attempt to limit mentions of the coronavirus's origins in the country and blame the U.S. for spreading the disease internationally.

The EU's compilation also mentioned Russia's attempt to seize on the pandemic and promote disinformation to sew discord and distrust in Western countries. 

“China has continued to run a global disinformation campaign to deflect blame for the outbreak of the pandemic and improve its international image,” the initial report said, according to the Times. “Both overt and covert tactics have been observed.”

When the alleged diluted EU report was published Friday, a passage referring to a Chinese "global disinformation" campaign was reportedly removed. Also removed was rhetoric concerning China's criticism of France's reaction to the pandemic.

The final version read: "Official and state-backed sources from various governments, including Russia and — to a lesser extent — China, have continued to widely target conspiracy narratives and disinformation."

However, Peter Stano, a spokesperson for the European External Action Service, refuted any kind of pressure by the Chinese government to water down the report. 

"The publications of the EEAS are categorically independent," he told Politico. "We have never bowed to any alleged external political pressure. This includes also our latest snapshot overview on [misinformation] trends."

Stano added the Times' article made "ungrounded, inaccurate allegations and contains factually incorrect conclusions about the EEAS’ report," and that "disinformation and harmful narratives can bear severe potential risks to our citizens, including to their health."