søndag 5. januar 2020

China accused of buying influence after Czech billionaire funds PR push

The Czech Republic’s richest man is at the centre of a suspected foreign influence campaign by the Chinese government after one of his businesses financed an attempt to boost China’s image in the central European country. In a development that has taken even seasoned sinologists aback, Home Credit – a domestic loans company owned by Petr Kellner that has lent an estimated £10bn to Chinese consumers – paid a PR firm to place articles in the local media giving a more positive picture of a country widely associated with political repression and human rights abuses.

Home Credit also funded a newly formed thinktank – headed by a translator for the Czech Republic’s pro-Chinese president, Miloš Zeman – to counteract the more sceptical line taken by a longer-established China-watching body, Sinopsis, linked with Prague’s Charles University, one of Europe’s oldest seats of learning.

Experts say the moves have the hallmarks of a foreign influence campaign by China that highlights its aggressive attempts to gain access to former communist central and eastern European countries through its ambitious “belt and road” initiative, under which it offers to fund infrastructure projects in those states.