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European citizens realistic about China, divided on future relations with Russia


Nearly sixteen months after the start of the war in Ukraine, most Europeans display a form of realism in the face of the geopolitical upheavals underway: with a few exceptions – the Bulgarians, in particular – the gap is widening between public opinion and the Russia; the prospects for post-conflict relations are becoming more complex; and the need for Europe to equip itself with increased defense capabilities, in order to get rid of its historical dependence on the United States, is becoming very clear. As for relations with China, alternately considered a “necessary partner” or a “rival”, they remain, as among European leaders, a subject of dissension.

This photograph is froma survey by the European Council on International Relations (ECFR), conducted in eleven countries of the European Union and published on Wednesday 7 June. As the authors, Jana Puglierin and Pawel Zerka note, “the strategic direction that Europe takes will have a significant impact on the lives of Europeans”, whether it is the extent of the threats to their security, possible disruptions in the supply of certain products or the volatility of the financial markets.

In the multipolar geopolitical configuration highlighted by the alliances forged since the start of the war in Ukraine, will it be necessary to side with the United States in their strategic competition with China, to support Washington in the event of an attack on Beijing on Taiwan, punishing China if it were to deliver arms to Russia, strengthening the Atlantic Alliance, treating Russia as a partner after the war…?

Between pragmatism and conviction

To these quasi-existential questions, European citizens respond with a mixture of pragmatism and conviction, more or less shared by their leaders. Thus on the image of China, 43% of them seem to lean more towards the positions of the French President, Emmanuel Macron, or the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, who advocate a rapprochement with Beijing, and are circumspect on the more antagonistic approach defended by the president of the European commission Ursula van der Leyen, even that of the American president Joe Biden.

Paradoxically, the French (31%) and the Germans (33%) are among the least inclined to share the views of their own leaders, preferring to see Beijing as a ” rival “or even a “adversary”. But, overall, Beijing’s proximity to Moscow since the start of the war in Ukraine has not changed China’s image and only 22% consider that trade relations with this country involve more risks than benefits. Sixty-two percent would like their country to remain neutral in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan (only 23% are in favor of support for the United States).

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