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Europeans want to remain neutral in possible US-China conflict, survey shows

China's President Xi Jinping, center, his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, left, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Beijing.
China's President Xi Jinping, center, his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, left, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Beijing. Copyright Ludovic Marin/Pool Photo via AP
Copyright Ludovic Marin/Pool Photo via AP
By Lauren Chadwick
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Europeans view China as a strategic partner more than a rival, a new European Council on Foreign Relations survey shows.

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Majorities of Europeans would want to remain neutral in a possible conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan, according to a new survey from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

More than 60% of respondents in the 11 surveyed EU countries said that they would want their country to remain neutral, the ECFR survey on European attitudes towards the US, Russia and China published on Wednesday revealed.

Respondents also saw China more as a strategic partner than an ally, a rival or an adversary, the survey found.

It shows that the European public's view of China is more in line with French President Emmanuel Macron than European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the report's co-authors argued in a policy brief.

Macron came under fire recently when he was quoted as saying that Europe did not have an interest in accelerating on the issue of Taiwan and warned that Europe should not become a "follower" on the topic and "adapt to the American pace and to a Chinese overreaction."

Several European leaders, including Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, have recently travelled to Beijing, with some viewing China as a competitor and others as a possible business partner.

The ECFR survey showed that Germany and Sweden were the two most hawkish countries on China.

"The poll results show that Europeans’ perception of China has changed surprisingly little when compared with the results of the poll conducted in 2021," the report's co-authors, ECFR senior policy fellows Jana Puglierin and Pawel Zerka, write, referring to their previous survey on European attitudes.

"Now, the prevailing view in almost every country in which we polled is that China is Europe’s, and the respective country’s, 'necessary partner'."

Yet if China begins providing weapons to Russia, an average of 41% of respondents across 11 EU countries would be ready to impose sanctions on Beijing.

In Hungary, Austria, Italy, and Bulgaria however, respondents said they would prefer not to impose sanctions.

A majority of respondents were also against Chinese companies owning bridges, ports, newspapers or technology companies in Europe, the survey showed.

'EU autonomy'

Europeans' view of the US as an ally has improved since 2021, but three-quarters of respondents agreed that Europe could not "always rely on the US" and needed its own defence capabilities.

"The chief takeaway from our survey is that Europeans want to see the EU become more self-reliant in foreign policy and build up its own defensive capabilities,” said Puglierin.

“These are not new demands of the EU, or of the leaders of its member states, but they have been sharpened by the war in Ukraine and the growing tensions between the US and China."

Europeans also said that a future Trump administration would weaken the security alliance with the US.

Russia as 'adversary'

The share of respondents who view Russia as an adversary or rival to the European Union has however doubled since 2021, the survey showed.

Around 64% of respondents said that Russia was an "adversary" or a "rival", an increase from 36% in 2021.

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Yet in Bulgaria around 47% of respondents said that Russia was a "necessary partner" that Europe must cooperate with.

Polling has consistently shown that Europeans are in favour of the EU supporting Ukraine. The latest Eurobarometer poll released on 6 June found that more than two-thirds of EU citizens said they strongly or somewhat approved of the support for the country.

The ECFR survey also asked respondents about what comes next for their countries' relations with Russia.

An average of 48% of Europeans said that after the war, their country should "have a limited relationship" with Russia, while 18% said that their country should "end all ties".

In Bulgaria, a majority of respondents said that the country should have a "fully cooperative relationship" with post-war Russia.

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Puglierin said: "This could be a defining moment for the EU, and poses the question of whether it can reconcile differences of opinion within the bloc, and shift from its dependence on the United States to a position where it can strike its own policy positions.”

The ECFR poll was carried out online among more than 16,000 adults over the age of 18 in Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and Sweden.

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