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China and Russia’s Influence On German Parliamentary Elections

August 29th, 2021 12:38

The Ger­man Coun­cil on For­eign Rela­tions (DGAP), a Ger­man think tank, has pub­lished a report exam­in­ing China’s and Russia’s influ­ence on the upcom­ing Ger­man par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. The report argues that both coun­tries will increase their influ­ence and inter­fer­ence efforts in the run-up to the elec­tion and beyond, using infor­ma­tion­al, polit­i­cal, and cyber tac­tics and eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal net­works. Accord­ing to the DGAP report syn­op­sis:

August 2012 Chi­na and Rus­sia want to main­tain Germany’s polit­i­cal sta­tus quo: Cen­trist, at times mer­can­tilist poli­cies, have often worked in their favor. Now, with the Green Par­ty ascen­dant and pub­lic opin­ion shift­ing, nei­ther Rus­sia nor Chi­na can be sure that clas­sic “cen­trism” will emerge after Sep­tem­ber. Rus­sia and Chi­na will increase their influ­ence and inter­fer­ence efforts in the run-up to the elec­tion and beyond, using infor­ma­tion­al, polit­i­cal, and cyber tac­tics, and eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal networks.

Read the full report here.

The report argues that Rus­sia’s influ­ence strat­e­gy is char­ac­ter­ized by the sys­tem­at­ic exploita­tion of exist­ing social and polit­i­cal cleav­ages with­in demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­eties. Accord­ing to the report:

Putin’s Rus­sia has a well-devel­oped infor­ma­tion appa­ra­tus at work in Ger­many and in the Ger­man lan­guage, includ­ing  Rus­sia Today  and  Rupt­ly,  a  high­ly active, Berlin-based glob­al video chan­nel. Rus­sia also pub­lish­es a Ger­man edi­tion of Sput­nik News and ben­e­fits from a series of “black hat” influ­encer tac­tics using Face­book net­works, Twit­ter bot­nets (col­lec­tions of inter­net-con­nect­ed devices infect­ed by mal­ware and con­trolled by hack­ers), and chain email mes­sages. At home and abroad, Rus­sia-affil­i­at­ed media out­lets reg­u­lar­ly opine neg­a­tive­ly on Ger­man pol­i­tics and con­duct smear cam­paigns against Chan­cel­lor  Angela Merkel. One of the most infa­mous cam­paigns, the  “Lisa  Case” in Jan­u­ary 2016, involved pub­lish­ing and viral­ly shar­ing a fake news sto­ry about the kid­nap­ping of a Russ­ian-Ger­man girl, to pro­voke unrest. RT and Sput­nik seek to ampli­fy sto­ries around Germany’s fail­ures to inte­grate its immi­grants and both out­lets are open­ly sup­port­ive of the Alter­na­tive for Ger­many (AfD), a par­ty Rus­sia favors even over the CDU.

The report fur­ther notes that Chi­na’s strate­gic influ­ence objec­tives are more tar­get­ed and aimed at deliv­er­ing con­crete ben­e­fits to China’s indus­try and infra­struc­ture and sway polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic deci­sion-mak­ers in its favor. Accord­ing to the report:

For decades, Chi­na relied most­ly on  deep­er tech­niques of per­sua­sion, aim­ing  at  win­ning over Ger­man pub­lic opin­ion and, above all, elite con­stituen­cies  in  busi­ness and pol­i­tics, thus build­ing eco­nom­ic depen­den­cy. This process has deep­ened in recent years. In its 2020 annu­al report, Germany’s domes­tic intel­li­gence agency,  the Bun­de­samt für Ver­fas­sungss­chutz  (BfV), said China’s  influ­ence  efforts  were steadi­ly increas­ing and had tar­get­ed, among oth­ers, “well-net­worked  active and for­mer Ger­man politi­cians  as ‘lob­by­ists’ for Chi­nese inter­ests.” The 2019 estab­lish­ment of “Chi­na-Brücke” (Chi­na Bridge), an elite net­work­ing club, by Hans-Peter Friedrich, a vice-pres­i­dent of the Bun­destag, is a vivid exam­ple. It is cre­at­ing a sig­nif­i­cant “in” for Chi­nese inter­ests among a select, but large­ly anony­mous, group of high­ly influ­en­tial peo­ple in pol­i­tics, busi­ness, health­care, dig­i­tal econ­o­my, acad­e­mia, and indus­try  in  Germany.

A recent GIOR inves­ti­ga­tion exam­ined the role that Chi­na-Brücke plays in Chi­nese influ­ence oper­a­tions in Europe. Oth­er recent GIOR report­ing on Russia’s and China’s influ­ence oper­a­tions in Ger­many has included:

  • In July, we report­ed that Ger­many seeks to counter Chi­nese influ­ence at its uni­ver­si­ties as con­cerns over Con­fu­cius Insti­tutes grow.
  • In May, we report­ed on China’s mul­ti-lev­el influ­ence oper­a­tions in Germany.
  • In April, we report­ed on a grow­ing dis­pute between Ger­many and Rus­sia over the estab­lish­ment of an RT (for­mer­ly Rus­sia Today) TV chan­nel in Germany.
  • In March, we report­ed that an EU study found that Ger­many is the main focus of Russ­ian dis­in­for­ma­tion efforts in Europe.