The European Union is China’s top trading partner, yet the coronavirus pandemic, concerns about security threats posed by the Chinese 5G provider Huawei, and recent reports of human rights abuses in Xinjiang have strained the relationship. A year on from the start of the coronavirus pandemic, pluralities in France (41%), Germany (37%), Italy (45%), and Spain (29%) think that China is significantly to blame for the coronavirus crisis. Only 8% to 13% do not think China is to blame at all. The proportion of Italians who think China is significantly to blame has increased by 9 points in Italy since May while declining by 3 points in Germany in the same period.
Across all of the countries polled, the proportion of respondents who think China is not at all to blame for the crisis does not vary significantly by recent voting patterns, suggesting that scepticism about China’s role in the pandemic is widespread across political groups in the four countries.
A poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies in October found that while pluralities in Germany and France considered China to be a threat, Italy viewed China far more favourably. However, our recent polling demonstrates that while some Italians may consider China an overall ally rather than an overall threat, the Italian public still thinks China is to blame for the pandemic. For example, in October’s poll, 29% of those who voted for the Five Star Movement in the 2018 Election considered China an ally and only 16% considered China a threat, yet our latest polling found that 47% of Five Star Movement voters think China is significantly to blame for the pandemic and a further 34% think China is somewhat to blame.
Indeed, the vast majority in France (67%), Germany (65%), Italy (75%), and Spain (70%), think China covered up the seriousness of the threat from coronavirus when it first emerged. In Italy, only a tenth (11%) think the Chinese Government was transparent about the seriousness of the virus––the lowest of any of the countries polled––which may be because Italy was one of the first countries to be seriously hit by the pandemic.
In every country polled, the majority in every age group think the Chinese Government initially covered up the seriousness of the pandemic, but the size of that majority does vary with age in France and Spain. In France, for example, 56% of 18-to-24-year-olds think the Chinese Government covered up the severity of the situation while a quarter (24%) of this age group think it was transparent. But only a tenth (11%) of those 65 and over think the Chinese Government was transparent while three-quarters (73%) think it covered up the seriousness of the virus.
Ultimately, while the EU has maintained a healthy trading relationship with China in recent years, there is cross-party political scepticism towards China’s role in the pandemic. The European public overwhelmingly think China is to blame for the pandemic and also consider that the Chinese Government covered up the severity of the virus when it first emerged.