Report: Backing Russia on Ukraine: China’s messaging in Central and Eastern Europe

Andreea Leonte | 5 May 2022

The CHOICE network (China Observers in Central and Eastern Europe), made up of Central and Eastern European experts on China, published in May 2022 the briefing paper Backing Russia on Ukraine: China’s Messaging in Central and Eastern Europe.

This briefing paper is a short analysis of Chinese messaging on the war in Ukraine in a number of CEE countries, including Romania. Andreea Leonte, researcher at RISAP, participated as one of the authors of this briefing paper.


  • The briefing paper analyzes Chinese messaging on war in Ukraine target- ing nine NATO and EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe, i.e., Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania.

  • Specifically, it focuses on narratives produced from February 1 to April 19, 2022, by Chinese embassies, the state news agency Xinhua, the local ver- sions of China Radio International (CRI) and other outlets.

  • Based on the intensity of Chinese messaging on Ukraine, the analyzed coun- tries can be divided in two groups: a) countries experiencing a high intensity of Chinese messaging (Bulgaria, Czechia, Poland, Romania), and b) coun- tries with close to no messaging from the Chinese side (Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia and Slovenia).

  • Across the analyzed countries, the messaging focused on four themes – Chi- na, the US (and by extension NATO), the European Union and Russia.

  • In three countries, China Radio International (CRI) portrayed NATO as “Volde- mort,” a pop-culture character and the main villain in the Harry Potter series. The similarity of content confirms the assumption that CRI articles are mere translations from Chinese originals. While the “Voldemort narrative” may not go down well in countries of Central and Eastern Europe, which perceive NATO as a security guarantor, the message may reflect a global narrative China spreads regardless of the local sensitivities towards the issue.

  • In Bulgaria, China’s two main media strategies have been to convey and sup- port Russian narratives and communicate its own positions on the war. During the first days after the Russian attack, China was notably silent. It was only after intensifying accusations of complicity with Russia that Beijing began to push its own statements. But the prevalence of other, non-Ukraine-related content highlights the overall unease of China towards the war and its pref- erence to deflect it as much as possible in its media posture.

  • In Czechia, China used three main narratives: the destabilizing role of the US and NATO, China’s neutral and responsible position during the crisis, and economic and security impacts of the war on the European Union. The media presence of the embassy has been modest, as the tasks were delegated to more activistic CRI Czech. The efficacy of this strategy is, however, question- able.

  • In Estonia, China has become less visible in public messaging to a broader audience since 2019. It has not made efforts to produce a specific content for the Estonian audience or to localize the messages, most likely in order not to antagonize the local population.

  • In Hungary, China is not among the most active international players. CRI Hungary presents itself as an objective source of information and avoided expressing opinions on the war in Ukraine directly. However, it managed to convey its messages indirectly by reposting and quoting Russian sources.

  • In Latvia, China resorts to second-hand messaging as it recycles narratives created for global, rather than local audience. The overall China’s approach to messaging remains the same as seen during COVID-19, without any active engagement with the Latvian society.

  • InPoland,China’smessagingregardingRussia’saggressionagainstUkraine has been visibly pro-Kremlin. The official diplomatic rhetoric has been rela- tively mild, while Chinese state-affiliated media have been blaming the US and NATO for the conflict. As the societal sensitivity to pro-Kremlin propaganda in Poland is high, this kind of approach seems ineffective.

  • In Slovakia, the official Chinese channels are not particularly active when it comes to spreading propaganda on the war in Ukraine. Chinese messages focused mostly on positive communication, highlighting China’s proclaimed commitment to peace and diplomatic resolution of the conflict. However, the vitriolic messaging has been taken over by the local proxies from far-right and far-left political parties.

  • In Slovenia, China does not seem to be particularly interested in trying to shift the domestic narrative, at least not through public channels. Yet this may change if Slovenia – under the new government – changes its official position into an even more China-skeptic narrative.

  • In Romania, China has tried to portray itself as an advocate of peace. China contrasted itself with the US which was portrayed as a cynical, dishonest and decadent actor, driven only by its selfish interests.

Disclaimer: The conclusions and recommendations included in the report do not necessarily represent the position of RISAP, which was not institutionally involved in this project.

Backing Russia on Ukraine: China’s Messaging in Central and Eastern Europe

Photo Credits:  CHOICE


Andreea Leonte

Andreea Leonte

Andreea Leonte is Fellow for China Studies at RISAP. A Mandarin speaker, Andreea’s research interests focus on China’s foreign relations, China-Europe relations, the Belt and Road Initiative and the China-CEE 16+1 format.

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