German Public Wishes for Reduced Trade Links with China

June 28, 2020
Coronavirus | Relations with China | The Economy
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Four months into the novel coronavirus’ spread in Europe, public opinion in Germany is firm that China is culpable. In the latest poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies in Germany, 83% of respondents agree that China is at least somewhat to blame for the coronavirus pandemic. 35% of respondents even said that they blame China significantly. This anti-China sentiment among the public shows little sign of abating and has actually increased since last month, with 6% more respondents agreeing that China is to blame compared to our poll conducted on the 6th of May.[1]

Only 18% of respondents view the Chinese government’s official figures for cases and deaths of coronavirus as trustworthy compared to 69% who do not. Beyond blaming the Chinese Government for its initial negligence, the German public also appears to believe the Chinese Government is behaving dishonestly and obscuring information and figures from the rest of the world.  

The theory that the coronavirus escaped from a specialist lab in Wuhan has gained a foothold with a third of respondents (31%) saying it is the most plausible explanation for the origin of the coronavirus. This contrasts with the 49% of respondents who think that a wet market in Wuhan was the most plausible origin for the novel disease.

This is part of a larger European emergence of displeasure with China, which was the EU’s second largest trading partner in 2019. In a series of surveys conducted in several countries, 80-87% of respondents in France, Spain and Italy also blame China for the coronavirus pandemic.

This conviction is finding itself reflected in consumer spending attitudes, with 57% of German respondents indicating they would be willing to pay more for products made in the EU if it meant that the EU would be less reliant on China.

Among those who were willing to pay greater sums for the products they use in order to reduce reliance on China, 52% said they would be willing to pay up to 10% more than usual for those products, and an additional 39% were willing to pay up to 25% more. This is likely a combination of both anti-China sentiment and a desire to support the local economy at a time of financial uncertainty due to the pandemic.

When respondents were asked directly whether they consider China to be an ally or a threat to Germany and its interests, the plurality of respondents (45%) felt it was neither, compared to 31% who thought it was a threat and 15% who thought it was an ally.

Although 33% said they wanted the German Government to pursue more distant relations with China, the plurality (39%) said they wanted to maintain the current level of relations, and 16% even said they wanted closer ties. While there is certainly a strong faction that supports reducing ties, many are reluctant to shut the door on Germany’s third largest receiver of exports.

By contrast, Russia is narrowly favoured over China by the German public. In comparison to the 33% of respondents who wanted the German Government to seek distance from China, only 26% wanted it to seek distance from Russia. Likewise, 23% of German respondents wanted closer ties with Russia, compared to the 16% who said the same for China. This difference is likely explained by both Russia’s position as Germany’s main energy provider, and the fact that China is the one being held responsible for unleashing coronavirus.  

As the pandemic rages on, the German government has forged ahead with their ‘Wandel durch Handel’ or ‘change through trade’ policy, brokering deals between Chinese electric automaker JAC and Volkswagen, as well as between State Power Investment Corporation and Siemens in June. However, if anti-China sentiment related to the coronavirus pandemic continues to rise in Germany (and indeed throughout the rest of Europe), the German government may be obliged to re-evaluate its approach to China. 

 

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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[1] Note: Answer codes differ.

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