The EU’s ambassador to Beijing accused the country of removing a reference to the origin of the coronavirus outbreak. Nicolas Chapuis said: “It is, of course, regrettable to see that the sentence about the spread of the virus has been edited out.” The piece was co-signed by ambassadors to China of the EU’s 27 member states and published in the China Daily newspaper.
A comparison between the original and the one published was uploaded onto the EU embassy website.
The section of the article that was deleted pointed towards China as the origin of the coronavirus pandemic.
The removed part read: “But the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, and its subsequent spread to the rest of the world over the past three months.”
It marks the latest spat between China and the West over the origin of the global pandemic.
Beijing has fought back against accusations it mishandled the early days of the outbreak, which is believed to have originated in the city of Wuhan in late 2019.
Last month Chinese diplomats were accused of pressuring the EU to tone down a report on disinformation within the EU.
But the latest row has exposed bitter divides between the EU’s Brussels-based executive and its member states.
The External Action Service, the EU’s foreign affairs arm, posted the version published by China Daily on social media.
Whereas, Germany, France and Italy’s embassies in China all published the unedited version of the article.
Norbert Rottgen, chair of the German parliament’s influential foreign affairs committee, said: “I am shocked not once but twice.
“Firs the EU ambassadors generously adopt Chinese narratives and then the EU representative on top accepts Chinese censorship of the joint op-ed.
“Speaking with one voice is important, but it has to reflect our shared European values and interests.”
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“This story beggars belief,” an EU diplomat told Politico.
“What is the point in letting yourself be censored?”
The source said it was an “embarrassment” for the bloc, adding: “The cost of taking a stand and defending what you believe in would have been very small.”
Mr Chapuis has refused to comment on why the words may have been taken out of the article.
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An EU spokesman said: “The EU delegation was informed that publication could only take place with agreement of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“The EU delegation made known its concenrs. The EU continues to advocate a free pres. On this specific case, the EU delegation decided to proceed with publication with considerable reluctance because it considered it important to communicate the key messages.”
China is also locked in a battle with the United States over the pandemic, including its origin.
President Donald Trump has insisted the virus leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan.
Chinese diplomats have even suggested the disease could have bene planted in the city by the US military last year.
Brussels has backed a Washington-led proposal for an independent review into the origin and spread of the coronavirus.
However, Beijing said it would not allow such a review on its soil until “final victory” was declared over the pandemic.
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