Plurality of French, Spanish and Italian Public View China as Neither an Ally nor a Threat

September 6, 2020
France | Italy | Relations with China | Spain
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Last weekend, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell described China as “assertive”, “expansionist” and “authoritarian.” Borrell argued that the European-Chinese “relationship is excessively asymmetric for the current level of Chinese development. And that must be corrected.” Although EU officials are taking an increasingly hard line on China, our research last month underlined geographic disparities within the bloc in regard to perceptions of China. In our latest polling, Redfield & Wilton Strategies again found that French respondents were more likely to favour their Government seeking more distant relations with China than respondents from Spain or Italy.

At this stage, a slight plurality (32%) of the French public would support the French Government seeking more distant relations with China, while 28% would favour the Government maintaining the current level of relations with China.

In Spain, a plurality (35%) would support the Government maintaining the current level of relations with China, while a quarter (25%) think the Spanish Government should seek closer relations with China. Notably, only around a fifth (21%) of Spaniards believe the country should seek more distant relations with China.

A strong plurality (41%) of Italians support the country maintaining the current level of relations with China. Around a fifth (22%) of the Italian public think the Government should seek closer relations, yet a similar proportion (21%) say the Government should seek more distant relations.

Across the three countries polled, pluralities (40-45%) consider that China is neither an ally nor a threat to their country. Only a fifth (20%) of Italians view China as a threat to Italy, while 23% of Spaniards hold this view. A significantly greater proportion of French respondents (37%) believe that China is a threat to their country compared to the Spanish or Italian public.

The Italian Government has underlined its desire to build strong relations with China, with the Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio stating last week that “Italy and China need to forge closer ties.” At this stage, 28% of Italians think that China is an ally, which is a greater proportion than within Spain (21%) of France (10%).

Although a significant proportion of the French public continue to view China as a threat, almost half (48%) do not think that President Macron is someone who will be tough on China. Only a fifth (20%) of French respondents think Macron will be tough on China while a third (33%) say they do not know. The Spanish public is also sceptical that their current Government will take a tough stance on China: a clear majority (58%) believe that Prime Minister Sanchez will not be tough on China, while just 13% think he will. Both of these results are very similar to our polling a month ago.

A plurality (32-33%) of the Spanish and French public think that the Chinese Government is ‘significantly to blame’ for the coronavirus pandemic. 22% of Spaniards consider the Chinese Government ‘moderately to blame’ while 21% of the Spanish public think the Chinese Government is ‘somewhat to blame.’ In France, 21% think the Chinese Government is ‘moderately to blame’ while 20% think the country is ‘somewhat to blame.’ In contrast, in Italy, a plurality (30%) believe that the Chinese Government as ‘somewhat to blame,’ while 26% consider the Chinese Government ‘significantly to blame’ and a further 21% think they are ‘moderately to blame.’ Across all three nations, only a small minority (9-14%) say that the Chinese Government is ‘not to blame at all’ for the coronavirus pandemic.

The overwhelming majority of respondents in Spain (88%), France (84%) and Italy (82%) believe that the official number of reported cases and deaths in China due to the coronavirus is not trustworthy.

In July, we found that a majority of the public across several European nations would be willing to pay more for products they use to be made in their country if it meant their country would be less reliant on China. At this stage, 58% of Italians, 63% of French respondents and 61% of Spaniards agree would be willing to pay more for products made in their own country, indicating that a stable majority of the European public would be willing to pay more for greater economic self-sufficiency.

Among French and Italian respondents who would be willing to pay more for products made in France or Italy, a majority (52-61%) would only be willing to pay between 0% and 10% more. In Spain, a strong plurality (49%) held the same view. Nevertheless, over a third (35-38%) of Spaniards and Italians would be willing to pay between 10% and 25% more for goods made within their own countries to reduce the reliance on China. 29% of French respondents would be willing to pay between 10% and 25% more.

Overall, our findings highlight that Europeans remain relatively ambivalent towards China, which lies in stark contrast to the views of the American public, who have consistently demonstrated strong hostility towards the Chinese Government. While overwhelming majorities consider that the Chinese Government covered up the extent of the coronavirus pandemic in China, a plurality in France, Spain and Italy still believe that China is ‘neither an ally nor a threat.’ Likewise, while the Italian public is somewhat more receptive towards their Government having close relations with China compared to the French and Spanish public, respondents in the latter two countries do not believe their leaders will take a tough stance against 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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