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Germany says China sought to encourage positive COVID-19 comments

BERLIN (Reuters) - Chinese diplomats approached German government officials in an attempt to encourage them to make positive statements on how Beijing is handling the coronavirus pandemic, the German interior ministry said in a letter this month.

“The German government is aware of individual contacts made by Chinese diplomats with the aim of effecting positive public statements on the coronavirus management by the People’s Republic of China,” said the letter, seen by Reuters on Sunday.

“The federal government has not complied with these requests.”

The letter was dated April 22 and was sent to Green Party member of parliament Margarete Bause in response to her question on whether Chinese diplomats had contacted German officials with the goal of encouraging them to make positive remarks.

The comments by the interior ministry were first reported by the Welt am Sonntag newspaper. The paper cited the Chinese embassy in Berlin as rejecting the report as untrue and irresponsible.

The embassy could not immediately be reached for comment on Sunday and the Chinese foreign ministry did also not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

In the letter, the interior ministry said the government had acknowledged China’s efforts to contain the pandemic, particularly since Jan. 23, even without being asked to do so by Beijing.

It went on to say that Berlin had told the Chinese government that it believed that transparency was important for combating the pandemic, without saying whether it believed the Chinese government had been transparent or not.

The ministry did not give a time frame for the contacts.

On Friday, Reuters reported that China sought to block a European Union report alleging that Beijing was spreading disinformation about the coronavirus outbreak, according to four sources and diplomatic correspondence.

The issue has also been a flashpoint between the United States and China - with officials on both sides trading allegations of hiding information.

Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Frances Kerry