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Foreign Influence Operations: Analysis of the COVID-19 Pandemic in North Macedonia

Image source: Wikimedia Commons/Diego Delso

A new policy paper by Ana Krstinovska deals with the growing issue of pro-China narratives in Europe, using the case study of North Macedonia. With the COVID-19 crisis serving as a significant catalyst, these campaigns have ramped up as China attempts to retroactively “retell” the tale of the epidemic’s origin and paint itself as the hero rather than the villain, emphasize China’s success in handling the pandemic in comparison with the Western countries, and exaggerate the assistance it provides through expertise and donations. The paper provides a thorough media analysis to dissect the localization of these global narratives in North Macedonia media and social networks.

In terms of approach, this has signaled a shift from “keeping a low profile and biding one’s time for the right opportunity” toward a more assertive approach of so-called “wolf warrior diplomacy” in Europe. Further, this approach reaches each European target via distinct channels, fungible to each unique media landscape, both traditional and new, with requisite learning curves. In combination with the detected efforts for indirect –influence over Macedonian media and journalists (trips, training, cooperation meetings, donations), the Chinese approach has the potential to exert influence and contribute to an alternative perception of the political, economic and geopolitical realities.

For nations like North Macedonia, where Chinese propaganda is still in an emerging stage and falls within the scope of facilitative communication, the “delay” in the development of China’s narrative influencing tools may provide crucial time to guard the media sphere from negative influence, prevent the “localization” of false narratives, and generally to strengthen the resilience toward foreign propaganda.

This paper was originally published by Estima.

Written by

Ana Krstinovska

Dr. Ana Krstinovska is a Research Fellow at CHOICE, President of the North Macedonia-based think tank and consultancy ESTIMA and Research Fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy ELIAMEP.