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European countries wary about confronting China over COVID-19 death figures

Published on 24/04/20 at 11:44am
Photo by Chinanews.com / China News Service

National security experts in the UK and US believe China is underreporting the true amount of COVID-19 deaths, but European nations are hesitant to confront them.

According to sources who spoke to the BBC, European countries do not want to directly confront China on their relatively low amount of deaths from the coronavirus. Western officials are also concerned that China is using its low deaths to improve its international standing and downplay its initial response to the pandemic.

More speculation has grown around China’s official death toll, after Wuhan increased its reported amount of fatalities from COVID-19 by 50% on 17 April. Chinese officials explained this sharp increase as them finally adding on the deaths that occurred outside of hospitals.

However, UK and US intelligence officials do not believe the central government in Beijing is deliberately fabricating these numbers. They feel it is more likely that local Communist Party officials in Hubei are pressuring people recording the data to suppress the actual numbers before it is passed to the government. But it is felt the government know these numbers are too low.

Charles Parton, a former UK diplomat in China and a senior associate fellow at the Rusi think-tank, commented on the death figures and said: “In China you always have the problem of what the localities are reporting up to the centre. The Chinese government is making a decision of what is the lowest number we can get away with to prop up the line that we have been far more successful in dealing with this than the West.”

Since many European countries are reliant on China for the manufacture and delivery of supplies to help fight COVID-19, it is felt there is no appetite for a diplomatic row at this time. A report by the European External Action Service (EEAS) looking at the misinformation coming out of China was not published due to concerns about Chinese reaction, according to someone familiar with the document.

Conor Kavanagh

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