The coronavirus pandemic has opened the eyes of the world to the true nature of the Chinese regime – countless articles have told us about it in the last few weeks. And maybe their authors are not wrong. In Europe, however, the reaction of the United States, even more than the reaction of China, has deeply alarmed politicians and the general public, writes Noah Barkin of the German Marshall Fund in an article for the authoritative magazine Foreign Policy, presented by without editorial intervention.
The results of a study by the Körber Foundation were published on Monday and serve as further confirmation of the above. The results are simply amazing, they should make all those people in Washington who believe that a US-led front against China will be created as a result of the current crisis think seriously.
The results of the survey show that Germans today are almost half divided on the question of which is the more important partner – Washington or Beijing, while 37% of respondents chose the United States, 36% chose China. These data show a significant change compared to the results of the previous survey conducted by the Korber Foundation in September 2019. Then the Germans gave the United States an impressive advantage of 26% over China.
This does not mean that the Germans are giving China a “free ticket” and are willing to agree to everything. 71% of Germans surveyed agree that greater transparency on the part of the Chinese leadership could have limited the impact of the coronavirus or even stopped the spread of this pandemic. However, only 6% of respondents said that their views on China had deteriorated, while 73% of respondents said that their views on the United States had deteriorated during the current crisis.
What does all this mean? First of all, this is a definite warning. Few expect transparency from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Many people rank the United States higher, and it’s easier to be disappointed when it comes to Washington’s failure.
Moreover, Germans’ views on the United States are among the most negative in all of Europe, and this has continued since Donald Trump appeared in the White House. Such was the case with President George W. Bush, but the opinion of the Germans changed dramatically in a positive direction as soon as he was replaced by Barack Obama as president. Public opinion in Germany is volatile, whether good or bad, and his attitude toward the United States is strongly influenced by the man sitting in the Oval Office.
“Germans’ opinion of the United States was falling freely even before the crisis caused by the chronavirus,” Nora Mueller, executive director of the Koerber Foundation, said in an interview with Foreign Policy magazine. “Doubts about the Trump administration’s actions in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and the alleged lack of global leadership in the United States have clearly exacerbated the alienation.”
On the other hand, German politicians need to consider broader considerations when balancing relations with Washington and Beijing. The United States is a democracy, and this country shares core values with Europe. While China is not a democracy. The United States has guaranteed the security of Germany, as well as other European countries, for more than 75 years. For most of that time, China was busy with itself.
But the world is changing. Perhaps we are witnessing the rise of the Asian century. Politicians in Germany and other European countries see a change in geopolitical lines and this affects their calculations. They see the Chinese Communist Party, which had been hiding information about the virus for the first few weeks and after the virus spread around the world, launch an aggressive propaganda and disinformation campaign, trying to change the narrative in its favor. They also see the Chinese Communist Party successfully curbing the spread of the coronavirus at home – although the tactics used are not acceptable to liberal democracies – when they set themselves such a task. For this reason, the Chinese economy appears to be recovering faster.
And when they look at the United States, they see chaos – in a country where more than 91,000 Americans have died as a result of the pandemic, politicians are unable to overcome their differences and act together. They see an administration that deviates from contacts with science and cooperation at a time when they are especially needed. And they see a president who seems ready to apply the scorched earth tactic to Sino-US relations if necessary to save his dwindling re-election chances.
Importantly, Trump is perceived in Europe not as a cause of disruption to the normal functioning of the United States, but rather as a symptom of this process or its catalyst. Even if Joe Biden sits in the White House next January, the paralyzing split between the parties will not go away. The same can be said for the economic damage caused by the crisis, which Americans do not seem ready to deal with after decades of less and less capable governments. Maybe working with the United States will be easier once Trump leaves. But will it be easier for how long? The US response to the coronavirus has deepened these suspicions in Germany as well as in other European countries.
According to a survey conducted this month by the British Foreign Policy Group, only 28% of Britons expressed confidence that the United States is behaving responsibly around the world, which is 13% less than in January this year. Conservative voters, who previously had a very high level of trust in the United States, secured the most significant loss of confidence.
In a survey conducted by Ifop, the French were asked this month which country is best placed to deal with the major problems in the coming decades. Only 3% of respondents chose the United States. A survey conducted in April by the SWG research institute showed that 36% of Italians believe that their country should focus on relations with China, while 30% have chosen the United States.
This does not mean that Europe is moving towards an equal distance policy towards the United States and China. For many years, there has been growing concern about the direction in which China is moving under President Xi Jinping – more state control, more oversight, more intimidation outside its borders. However, this does not mean that Europe will continue to exercise caution if it is necessary to side with Washington and oppose Beijing.
Would you agree to stand up to a school bully with an old friend if that friend is unreliable? And what if this same friend starts harassing you, as the United States did with Europe on the issue of creating the 5G network? Apparently, Washington is now doing the same for the United Kingdom, urging it to choose between a trade deal with Washington or Beijing. You probably won’t want to confront a school bully with such a friend.
Instead, Europe is trying to insure itself. It is currently negotiating a comprehensive investment agreement and joint action on climate change with Beijing.
The conclusion of these transactions will take considerable time. But if they are concluded during the presidential campaign in the United States, it will be another signal that the United States is losing Europe and losing it to its main foreign policy priority, China.