EU
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  • Josep Borrell, the European Union's (EU) chief diplomat, has denied watering down a disinformation report that was critical of China but admitted China did put the pressure on.
  • Two versions of the disinformation report have been seen - as well as emails between diplomats that The New York Times got hold of - and the second report, which was published, no longer included labelling China's efforts as a "global disinformation" campaign.
  • Despite Borell's denial, European politicians were sceptical, with one telling the diplomat his team had been "caught with their hand in the cookie jar."
  • Visit Business Insider South Africa's homepage for more stories.

The European Union's (EU) chief diplomat has denied watering down a coronavirus disinformation report that was critical of China. But European politicians are skeptical, with one telling the diplomat that his team had been "caught with their hand in the cookie jar."

On Thursday, the EU's chief diplomat Josep Borrell told the European Parliament in Brussels that China had been trying to assert its influence on the report, the South China Morning Post reported. But he said that was normal diplomacy, and the pressure hadn't been successful.

He said: "Did China put pressure? Look, it's clear and evident that China expressed their concerns when they knew the document that was leaked. They expressed their concerns through the diplomatic channels."

"I can assure you that no changes had been introduced to the report published last week to align the concerns of a third party, in this case, China. There is no watering down of our findings. We have not bowed to anyone," he said.

The report, which was described as a "routine roundup of publicly available information and news reports," included information about China's attempts to limit tying the coronavirus to Wuhan, the city where it originated. The report first made headlines on April 24, when The New York Times reported that pressure from China had led to it being softened.

The Times got its hands on emails from EU diplomats, including one from Lutz Güllner, a European Union diplomat, who wrote to his peers: "The Chinese are already threatening with reactions if the report comes out."

China has been trying to limit negative press connecting it to the coronavirus, as it pushes an aggressive foreign policy agenda.

Then came the changes. The first report said: "China has continued to run a global disinformation campaign to deflect blame for the outbreak of the pandemic and improve its international image. Both overt and covert tactics have been observed."

The second report's language was softened. While it remained critical of China, it had removed the words "global disinformation."

Borrell said the revisions were simply part of a typical editing process.

Yet Thierry Mariani, a French member of the European Parliament, said the diplomats had been "caught with their hand in the cookie jar," according to The New York Times.

Hilde Vautmans, a Belgian member of the European Parliament, pressed Borrell on which Chinese official had been putting on the pressure, and how. But he declined to clarify.

Vautmans said: "I think Europe needs to know that. Otherwise you're losing all credibility."

The report didn't point to China's disinformation alone. Russia was also included.

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