Europe’s perception of China during the Covid-19 pandemic

Europe’s perception of China during the Covid-19 pandemic is the main focus of the Report titled 'European public opinion on China in the age of Covid-19- Differences and common ground across the continent', the result of a study conducted by the Ceias, Central Europe Institute of Asian Studies in collaboration with some important research institutes, including the Ca’ Foscari Department of Asian and North African Studies, represented by researcher Beatrice Gallelli.   

The Report, which involved 13 European states and was carried out on a sample of 1500 people for each country between September and October 2020, has highlighted a generally negative trend, as China tends to be seen negatively by 10 countries out of 13. In particular, Northern Europe has revealed a very negative perception, while Southern Europe countries - and Italy among them - have manifested a slightly less negative perception. 

Only a few states in Eastern Europe have reported a positive vision. 

Specifically, Sweden, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic seem to have formed a markedly negative opinion on the Asian giant; at the other end of the spectrum, Russia and Serbia have the most positive opinions, even though Latvia is the only European country with predominantly positive opinions. 

The survey has investigated a wide array of parameters, to understand which are the most important when it comes to forming an opinion on the country. Among the many factors, only the trade sector is seen positively for the most part, as many countries have thriving commercial relations with China, while the topic of “Chinese investments“ in Europe seems to have predominantly negative connotations. 

The survey also contained questions on specific topics such as the Belt&Road initiative, which had a positive reception in Italy, 5G technology, which highlighted a scarce willingness to cooperate with Chinese companies, and military forces, which most people are still suspicious of. 

The topic that recorded the most negative opinions has been without a doubt China’s environmental impact on a global level: all surveyed people seemingly wish for more effective forms of cooperation with China on the issue of climate change. 

Another subject that is perceived extremely negatively is China’s effect on the democracies in other countries, as well as human rights issues.  

From a political standpoint, a comparative analysis of China, USA and Russia was also made. Among the three superpowers, the United States received the most positive opinions throughout Europe, including in Italy. 

What became evident from the study of these geopolitical aspects is that Europe wants to avoid choosing, instead positioning itself somewhere in the middle. The Old Continent doesn’t want to align with either colossus, as China remains a crucial actor and nobody wants to give up the many advantages of doing business with it.   

Part of the survey was also dedicated to the health emergency, as the topic of Covid-19 was also tackled: this virus has undoubtedly influenced the public opinion in Europe, also given the period of time during which the poll was carried out.

Regarding the origins of the virus, the majority of surveyed people agree with the main theory in the scientific world, thus believing that the virus was naturally transmitted from animals to humans. This seems to be the prevailing view in Sweden, Germany, Latvia, Russia, French, Italy and the United Kingdom. In Poland, almost half of the people interviewed believe in the conspiracy theory according to which the virus has been artificially engineered in a laboratory and then intentionally spread by China itself

A significant number of people in countries like Spain, Hungary, Latvia and the United Kingdom have also aligned with this theory. 

Many of the subjects interviewed in Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany and France still believe in the theory reported by numerous media outlets, according to which the outbreak of Covid-19 was caused by people eating bats and other wild animals

Nevertheless, among the superpowers, China proved to be the one that helped others the most, even though many people believe that the country has profited off the global pandemic. 

This is the first in a series of reports that will be published soon, each focusing on a different country. The Italian edition will be curated by Beatrice Gallelli, who collaborated on the whole project and will continue working with the other members in the research team.