The majority of Europeans are not willing to align with America in a potential conflict with China, as per a recent poll conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).
The survey reveals a significant divide in perceptions of China among European citizens and their political leaders, notably between European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron.
In a keynote speech earlier this year, von der Leyen “dispensed with the EU’s established triad to describe China as a ‘partner, competitor, and systemic rival’ and emphasized the need for active, strategic, multidimensional risk minimisation in Europe’s dealings with Beijing.”
However, her viewpoint does not echo throughout Europe, with Macron advocating a more conciliatory approach, promoting “greater rapprochement” with China and seeking to revive “the strategic and global partnership.”
The ECFR poll shows that “in many ways, European citizens are more on Team Macron than Team von der Leyen. They do not see China as a power that challenges and wants to undermine Europe, and they do not buy into the ‘democracy versus autocracy’ framework promoted by the Biden administration.”
Even after the so-called “no limits” partnership between China and Russia in 2022 and Beijing’s refusal to condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, “Europeans’ perception of China has changed surprisingly little.”
The poll finds that in most European countries, China is perceived as a “necessary partner.”
However, the views are not unanimous.
In Germany, Sweden, France, and Denmark, the dominant perception is of China as a “rival” or an “adversary,” while other nations, including Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Bulgaria, have displayed clear aversion towards potential sanctions against Beijing.
Furthermore, Europeans are cautious about the practical implications of China’s economic presence in Europe.
The survey shows that “on average, a majority would oppose allowing Chinese companies to own infrastructure in Europe, as well as to buy a European newspaper or technology company.”
There has been an increase in concerns about China’s economic presence in Europe since 2020, particularly in Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and Hungary.
Despite the practical concerns about Chinese investment and infrastructure, Europeans seem less worried about the potential risks associated with trade and investment links with China, such as the reliance of European companies on Chinese supply chains.
This could be because “for the moment, Europe’s dependence on China has not been nearly as evident in the media or in people’s lives as its energy dependence on Russia since the latter’s invasion of Ukraine.”
This poll paints a complex picture of Europe’s relationship with China and indicates the extent of divergence among the European public and leadership about how to engage with Beijing in a changing global landscape.