Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
November 23, 2023
The following analysis and the title reflect a narrow and outdated mindset that still dominates some US scholars. To them, the US and European allies represent the “world,” these people speak for the world.
Most of the analysis is based on the result of a survey “polled from 14 countries: the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Poland, Turkey, Canada, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Lithuania, and Romania.” Frankly, these 14 countries are in a political-social club chaired by the US.
First of all, UN membership nation’s numbered 193, the “lucky 14 countries” represent only about 7% of the nations in this “world,” there is no way the views of other 179 nations are reflected by this small club.
Secondly, the combined population of this club is around 900 million, which less than India and/or China. They hardly speak for the “world” population numbered more than 8 billion, how can 10% of the people speak for the world? The data analysis is further flawed considering that Lithuania’s population is about 2.8 million so 15 percent of them still considers the US is the dominating global power. That means less than half million people think China will get stronger in the next five years. That is fine, but what does it mean for the world?
This type of analysis with a misleading title is rather useless because it is biased. For example, if one is interested in gauging the status of US-China competition, a well-designed series of public opinion poll should be carried out in the US and China respectively! US and China can speak for themselves, and they do not care much about whatever 2.8 million Lithuanians’ opinions are.
The World Still Thinks China Is Rising
Polling shows Beijing is seen as powerful—and malign.
By Garima Mohan, a senior fellow in the Indo-Pacific program of the German Marshall Fund, and Chris J. Murphy, a M.A. Candidate in Asian Studies at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.
NOVEMBER 20, 2023, 5:30 PM
The leaders’ communiqué issued during the May 2023 G-7 annual summit in Hiroshima, Japan, affirmed that the G-7 partners “stand prepared to build constructive and stable relations with China” while “recognizing the importance of engaging candidly with and expressing our concerns directly” to Beijing on a variety of issues. After discussing their approach to China-related challenges, the U.S. and EU also expressed their commitment to deepening cooperation on critical and emerging technology issues including artificial intelligence (AI), while sharing concerns about non-market policies of countries such as China. Whether U.S. and European policymakers can create a common approach to China-related challenges will in part depend on if there is convergence in public views of China on both sides of the Atlantic.
The German Marshall Fund of the United States conducted its annual Transatlantic Trends survey of the public’s attitudes this summer, to assess opinions on a range of issues that are crucial to trans-Atlantic interests, including China. Respondents were polled from 14 countries: the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Poland, Turkey, Canada, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Lithuania, and Romania.
While a majority of those polled (64 percent) currently see the U.S. as the world’s most influential actor, respondents believe the gap between the U.S. and China will close in the next five years. When asked who they see as the most influential actor in global affairs five years down the line, only 37 percent of respondents replied with the United States, followed closely by China (30 percent). Overall, the percentage of those who see China becoming more influential has increased by 5 percentage points from last year’s survey.
There is also a geographical divide on this question; while Western European countries see China assuming a greater role in the next five years—including Italy (51 percent), France (42 percent), Spain (36 percent), and Germany (34 percent)—these numbers are much lower for Central and Eastern European countries like Lithuania (15 percent) and Poland (18 percent), where a majority of respondents still see the world as more unipolar, with the U.S. at the center.
And yet, a majority of respondents across the Atlantic view China’s influence in the world negatively, except Romania and Turkey. Conservative-leaning respondents in some countries showed the most negative views of Chinese influence. In the United States, for example, 69 percent of Republican-leaning respondents, versus a national average of 58 percent, perceive China’s influence negatively. In the United Kingdom, it is 79 percent of Conservative-leaning respondents versus a national average of 64 percent. In Germany, the Greens, who lean left, have the most negative views of China’s influence (74 percent) in the country.
On average, a plurality of respondents across the Atlantic (31 percent) see China as a competitor. Twenty-three percent see it as a partner and around 1 in 5 (19 percent) view it as a rival. These numbers differ significantly within countries, however. For example, U.S. respondents are more likely to describe their country’s relationship with China as a rivalry (34 percent). Similarly, the perception of China as a competitor is highest in Germany (44 percent), followed by France (40 percent), Italy (39 percent), and Spain (38 percent).
This question has been posed to respondents over several years, and the data show interesting changes for 2023. The British public is now more likely (up 6 percentage points, to 29 percent) to see China as a rival than last year. The number of respondents describing China as a partner has declined 6 percentage points in Poland compared to last year. This is also the case for Lithuania, where this number has gone down 5 percentage points. The outlier in this case is Turkey, where the share of respondents who see China as a partner for their country has increased to 38 percent.
Both sides of the Atlantic continue to prefer a harder line on Beijing. The 2023 Transatlantic Trends survey reports that Americans, Europeans, and Canadians are still in favor of being tougher on China, but they prioritize different issues. Taking a stronger approach toward China on human rights (49 percent) and climate change (41 percent) are the top priorities on both sides of the Atlantic. On human rights, the highest support comes from Portugal (63 percent), France and Sweden (both 62 percent), Canada (57 percent), and the U.K. (56 percent).
On climate change, respondents in France (57 percent), Portugal (56 percent), and Sweden (53 percent) yet again express the highest support for a tougher stance on China. Conversely, Turkish (53 percent), Romanian (45 percent), and Lithuanian (37 percent) respondents are more interested in cooperating with China on climate change. Germany stands out as more willing to cooperate with China on climate change than other countries polled in Western Europe.
On trade, the number of respondents asking for more cooperation has seen a slight uptick across the Atlantic, with Europe in the lead (34 percent). U.S., U.K., and Canadian respondents are less supportive of cooperation with China on trade-related issues (26 percent, 27 percent, and 23 percent, respectively).
Remarkably, data show that Lithuanians prefer more cooperative policies with China on trade (52 percent). That comes in the context of a yearslong quarrel where China cut off trade and blocked the import of products in response to Lithuania’s agreement to permit Taiwan to establish a trade office in Vilnius using “Taiwan” instead of “Taipei” in its title.
While U.S. respondents support collaborating with China slightly more than last year on new technologies (increasing to 28 percent from 25 percent in 2022), Americans continue to express lower interest in cooperating with China in the field compared to their European counterparts. Given how much of the U.S. policy of competition with China has centered on legislative and export control measures on critical and new technologies, this seems to have permeated public opinion as well, even if it is not necessarily reflected across the Atlantic.
Although politicians have often linked Kyiv and Taipei, the impact of the war in Ukraine seems to have made little difference in opinions on how a Taiwan crisis should be handled. Support for a diplomatic solution polled the highest, with 51 percent of respondents supporting this position. This was followed by support for joining other countries in imposing sanctions (27 percent).
The lowest support across the board in all countries is for sending arms (9 percent) and sending troops (4 percent) to Taiwan. While Europeans expressed the least support for sending troops (3 percent), the number was slightly higher in Canada (9 percent) and the U.S. (10 percent). Within the U.S., 14 percent of Republicans supported this option followed by 10 percent of Democrats, independents, and other political affiliations.
This trend of low support for a boots-on-the-ground response is confirmed in this year’s public opinion survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which found that only 4 in 10 Americans (40 percent of the overall public) favored sending U.S. forces to the island. This survey also showed much higher support for using the navy to support Taiwan, sending aid, and accepting refugees.
Low support for all options other than diplomacy and political response indicates a need for the administration to explain to the American public why Taiwan’s security matters to America, and why defending Taiwan is worth expending American blood and treasure.
These survey results indicate three major cleavages. One, the public’s desire to increase cooperation with China on issues such as trade, technology, and crisis management often sits at odds with the more stringent policies their governments are following, underlining the need for better public communication around legislative and trade measures. Second, the gap on China-related issues between North American and European audiences still persists, pointing to the need for more trans-Atlantic communication. Within European responses, the difference between Western and Eastern European countries is another trend to note.
And finally, the assessment of the trans-Atlantic relationship is rather sober, as most European respondents see U.S. influence either staying the same or declining in the next five years, while China continues to rise.