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2021.03.04 14:24

China's 'mask diplomacy', radicalism, Russian vaccines pose threat to Lithuania – intelligence

BNS2021.03.04 14:24

Lithuania’s intelligence agencies, the State Security Department (VSD) and the Second Investigation Department under the Defence Ministry, released the yearly report looking into the threats faced by the country.

Radicalism

The Covid-19 pandemic is exploited by supporters of radical political ideologies and destructive conspiracy theories.

“In some of them, political radicals organise protests that turn into public unrest and violent incidents," the report reads. "To some extent, similar trends are also observed in Lithuania."

Meanwhile, "authoritarian states have exploited the pandemic to convert the contact tracing – one of the main tools for virus containment – into a vast surveillance system, which enables a centralised collection of personal data and control of movement in public areas, including uninfected individuals and foreign citizens", it said.

Several dozens of attempts to organize protests against lockdown restrictions were recorded in Lithuania in 2020.

"Some individuals actively engaged against the government-imposed lockdown rules in Lithuania are susceptible to Russia’s disinformation regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, and they contribute to dissemination of pro-Kremlin propaganda themselves," the report reads.

"Although protests got neither much attendance nor provoked public unrest or violence, some of the activists demonstrated their organisational skills and the ability to conspire".

The majority of coronavirus-related conspiracy theories are destructive and "the anti-vaccine theories pose a major threat to the successful containment of the pandemic".

China's 'mask diplomacy' and Russia's vaccine geopolitics

The Lithuanian intelligence agencies say that authoritarian states are also exploiting the pandemic to achieve global goals: either to undermine the West or to improve their own national image.

"Russia maintains its traditional strategic interests – to incite conflicts among Western countries and stir domestic disputes, to support Eurosceptic movements and to demonstrate an alleged inefficiency of the EU, NATO and their Member States," they said in the report.

China, meanwhile, is seeking to counter international criticism of its "initial poor handling of the coronavirus outbreak and to shape a positive national image".

Read more: Lithuania mulls leaving China's 17+1 forum, expanding links with Taiwan

"Chinese authorities not only aim to restore the country’s global reputation, but also strive to strengthen political influence by providing medical equipment as humanitarian aid to the countries facing the pandemic."

"During the pandemic, China’s political regime engaged in ‘mask diplomacy’ with massive propaganda campaigns being its key feature."

Chinese diplomatic missions play an important role in the "mask diplomacy" as they supervise the supply of medical equipment and take efforts to ensure that people are aware that the aid came from China.

"In order to improve the image and competitiveness of its international companies, China’s political regime coordinated shipments of medical equipment to Lithuania. China publicly portrayed the shipments as aid from its international companies that have direct interests in Lithuanian telecommunications and energy sectors," the report said.

Read more: Referencing Soviet occupation, Lithuanian FM says country will not buy Russian vaccine

"In order to control pandemic related narratives, China’s political regime strengthened cooperation with Lithuanian media outlets by regularly ordering sponsored articles."

"The topics varied from China’s achievements in fighting the pandemic, humanitarian aid and benefits of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to criticism towards Lithuanian politicians and activists, who publicly raise concerns about China’s human rights violations as well as the regime’s policies regarding Hong Kong, Tibet, and Taiwan."

The intelligence bodies also say that China and Russia are using their coronavirus vaccines "as a new geopolitical instrument of global influence".

"China’s aim is to have its vaccine used in as many countries as possible, especially in the developing ones," they said. "Russia considers the vaccine development as an opportunity to improve its international image and partnerships with India, Brazil, Venezuela, Belarus and other countries."