BRUSSELS — The 2007 Transatlantic Trends report confirms a couple of the trends that have been worrying policymakers in Beijing of late. The gradual cooling of European ardour for China since the honeymoon days of 2004 continues. Then polling”warmth” levels (on a 100-degree scale) across Europe of over 50 degrees, comparable to the United States, China has this year slipped to 43 degrees in the eyes of Europeans, on par with European feelings toward Russia. The alignment of U.S. and European attitudes toward China is also marked. Similar proportions €“ 48% of Europeans and 54% of Americans €“ see China as more of an economic threat than an opportunity, and even the differences in numbers viewing China as a military threat €“ 50% of Americans and 32% of Europeans €“ will be far from reassuring to Beijing. While the United States and China regularly game out war scenarios over Taiwan, making the relatively high U.S. figure understandable, the sheer unlikelihood of any military confrontation between China and any European state would have been expected to result in considerably lower numbers across the EU.
This was not supposed to happen. Three years ago, the story was of Europeans blinded by commercial enthusiasm, Chinese”soft power,” and a barely-disguised desire to counterbalance American unilateralism, looking to seal a new alliance with China through the lifting of the 1989 arms embargo. Even seasoned observers of China and Europe such as David Shambaugh wrote about an “emerging axis” €“ and many in Beijing believed it. Yet when the hard choice was put in 2005, the Europeans chose not to risk the damage to transatlantic relations, and the embargo remains in place. Amid growing criticism from European businesses about slow progress on market access, the tougher language of the European Commission’s October 2006 communication, setting out a new China strategy, elicited Chinese concern about the “Americanization” of the European position. And with the departure from the scene of Chirac and Schroeder, China lost the two lynchpins of the proto-EU-China strategic partnership. Intra-European divisions persist €“- the survey shows that populations in northern European countries such as the Netherlands and the U.K. are far more disposed to see China as an economic opportunity than those in southern or eastern Europe. But the”China opportunity” camp is also broadly a transatlanticist one, giving relatively little opportunity for China to exploit these differences.
The snapshot that the data provides €“- this is the first year that the survey has posed the opportunity/threat questions this way €“- mirrors a number of other recent polls showing that while China’s standing in the developing world is often high, its image in the West is showing few signs of improvement and some signs of decline. The survey, moreover, was conducted before the peak of the Chinese product safety scandals and recent reports of”cyber-attacks” not only on the U.S. Department of Defense but also on German, French, and British government ministries. Although there are natural differences between the United States, as a Pacific power, and Europe, with its negligible security role in East Asia, the basic attitudes toward China’s rise among publics on both sides of the Atlantic look similarly ambivalent.