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Uncovering Chinese ‘Friendship’ Groups in Europe

Europe has emerged as the new focus for the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) global campaign of political influence. It has in more recent years beefed up the use of its so-called “friendship groups” (youxie) to extend and deepen its influence in Europe. The latest example is the pro-China policy of Jan Zahradil,  vice-chair of the European Parliament’s powerful International Trade Committee. Beijing has been clandestinely setting up several espionage groups for decades to undermine, subvert, and destroy European countries, the European Union, and European civilization.

Hidden agendas

The CCP is not interested in making friends, and there is nothing friendly about these “friendship groups.” Their role, like hundreds of other CCP groups, is espionage. “Friendship groups” make contact, make friends, and offer lucrative favors and deals to political, banking, industrial, celebrity, academics, media, and other prominent influences. In turn, these influencers promote the CCP agenda, whitewash the Party, including their sordid past and their perverse nature.

A year-long investigation conducted by Axios has found that a Chinese spy has infiltrated several Democrat campaigns so the Chinese Communist Party can influence U.S. politics.
Very friendly indeed. Fang Fang, also known as Christine Fang, is a Chinese spy who targeted U.S. politicians between 2011 and 2015. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

The European Parliament is one of three legislative branches of the European Union and one of its seven institutions. It represents the second-largest democratic electorate in the world after the Parliament of India. The People’s Republic of China established a “friendship group” to facilitate educational and cultural exchanges and promote collaboration between Beijing and the European Union. 

EU-China ‘friendship group’ 

EU-China Friendship Group in the European Parliament was established in December 2006 in Brussels, Belgium. The EU-China Friendship Group currently has a membership of 45 MEPs (Member of European Parliament) across 7 political groups from 20 countries, 13 of whom hold key positions in the European Union, such as chair holders of political groups and leaders in parliamentary committees.

Ostensibly, the group acts as a platform of amity and goodwill within European civil society.  But, by analyzing the recent events related to this group, from the Gerhard Sabathil spy probe to the latest Zahradil controversy, we can see the much darker plan of Beijing.

Gerhard Sabathil was a former EU ambassador from Germany. German authorities suspected that he was at the center of a clandestine Chinese operation aimed at transmitting European secrets to Beijing. But after a year-long high profile investigation, he was cleared of all suspicions. Though Sabathil’s charges were never proven, many European governments still fear Beijing’s global aspirations and the efforts they put into influencing regional leaders. The German authorities have declined to provide details of this probe to the media, according to Politico.

The same situation arose when Fraser Cameron, who directs the EU-Asia Centre, a Brussels think tank that was investigated by Belgian security services on suspicion of passing sensitive information to China. Fraser is a former UK diplomat and ex-European Commission official. He was suspected of leaking information about the EU to Chinese spies, which he later denied.

Trade committee controversy

The latest controversy relating to the Chinese influence in the European Union involves Jan Zahradil. He is a Czech conservative MEP and current vice-chair of the International Trade Committee of the European Parliament. Zahradil is the chairman of the EU-China Friendship Group as well. With his position on the trade committee, he can influence EU trade decisions and obtain access to sensitive negotiating documents from the European Commission.

The hotel expenses of the ‘friendship group’ were borne by the Chinese government. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

According to Bloomberg, the hotel and travel expenses of the “friendship group” were regularly picked up by the Chinese government. Zahradil’s efforts to initiate trade deals between China and Europe are highly suspect. He lauded that China can seek a path to recovery, expand international cooperation, and activate foreign trade in the post-COVID-19 world. According to the Facebook post of China International Import Expo, Zahradil’s praise came during the China International Fair for Trade in Services-CIFTIS, which was conducted in November. This was when Europe and the U.S. were highly critical of the Chinese government’s role in the coronavirus spread.

Zahradil’s pro-China policy could possibly give China an edge in ongoing commerce talks with Brussels. Recently, a report highlighting this issue was published in Politico. In a retaliatory measure, Zahradil expressed his discontent regarding the article through a letter addressed to European Parliament President David Sassoli. He rejected the claims, stating that they are just baseless accusations.

Another accused is Gai Lin. He is the first Chinese national to be employed by the European Parliament. He became a key player in the “friendship group” after being employed in Zahradil’s services as a part-time accredited assistant following the May 2019 European Parliament election.

Gai’s honorary title in the “Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries,” (CPAFFC) which is part of China’s foreign affairs establishment, sparked controversies. A Czech Atlanticist think tank, Sinopsis, funded by the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy, published a 42-page report on this. The report alleges close ties between the EU-China Friendship group and the Chinese foreign affairs department.

Earlier, the 2017-18 reports from the Belgian intelligence services and a paper by the Washington-based think tank, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, which is close to the U.S. defense industry, also accused China of misusing international friendship groups to acquire sensitive information. All reports shed light on the CCP’s growing influence on European bodies and Western countries.

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