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China’s playbook borrowing from Russia: French military think tank

French President Emmanuel Macron (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after a joint press briefing at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on January 9, 2018.

Marc Schiefelbein | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON – China increasingly aims to infiltrate and exert pressure on the world stage, with its operations becoming more and more similar to those associated with Russia, according to a recent report by a think tank linked to the French army.

The Strategic Research Institute of the French Military School, an independent unit of the country’s armed forces known as IRSEM, said it had seen a change in Beijing’s behavior.

“For a long time, we could say that China, unlike Russia, sought more to be loved than to fear”, the report, published last week, a CNBC translation said.

But he adds that “Beijing’s influence operations have intensified considerably in recent years and its methods increasingly resemble those applied by Moscow.” The research paper, over 600 pages, was written by Paul Charon and Jean-Baptiste Jeangene Vilmer, experts in Chinese politics and foreign affairs.

The Chinese Embassy in London was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC on Wednesday.

The French report describes various areas in which the Chinese authorities have sought to extend their power. These include the media, where China has invested 1.3 billion euros ($ 1.52 billion) per year since 2008 “to better control its image in the world”.

He also mentions economic coercion, in particular by denying market access to foreign investors, by imposing embargoes and tariffs as well as by organizing boycotts. China imposed significant trade restrictions on Australian products last year after the country called for an investigation into Covid.

In addition, the report also claims that Beijing has attempted to influence the outcome of elections over the past decade – apparently in at least 10 elections in seven countries. This is something that US intelligence officials have blamed on Russia as well, especially during the 2016 presidential election in the United States.

The theme of coercion in international relations was also raised earlier this week by the leaders of the United States, India, Japan and Australia. Without mentioning China, the four countries said they were committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific region that “would not be intimidated by coercion.”

France and China

France has, in fact, been one of the most skeptical Western nations of any efforts by the United States to limit some of China’s actions.

French President Emmanuel Macron believes that while criticizing China for human rights violations, the EU must work with the nation, especially on climate change.

Speaking in February, Macron said: “A situation to be brought together against China is a scenario of the highest possible conflict,” Politico reported.

“This one, for me, is counterproductive,” he said.

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