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May 19, 2020

Beware of China's rising influence

There are two polling trends that should worry the EU. The one is the dramatic rise of euroscepticism in Italy. The other came yesterday, and shows a rise in the pro-China sentiment in Germany. A Kantar poll puts the number of Germans who see China as the most important strategic partner at 36%, up from 24% last September. The number for the US is 37%, down from 50% last time. A huge shift. 

The poll, for the Korber foundation, tells us that the shift is particular strong among the 18-34 year-olds, and especially in eastern Germany. The shift is due to Covid-19, which is ironic of course since the virus originated in China. Yet China is seen far more positively than the US.

Our own assumption is that the influence of Chinese diplomacy in Europe will grow. Yesterday's agreement between Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron is a good step, as we argue above. But it still fits the pattern of doing the minimum necessary to keep the show on the road, rather than doing what is needed for success. 

In particular, the fund won't be big enough to stop EU member states, like Italy, pursuing their own policies towards China. And this will hinder any efforts at EU level to fortify an EU-wide industrial policy to weaken China's economic influence.

We do not think that Europeans are really shifting as the polls suggest. It is always about their relationships, who they are with. The poll tells us that they are angry with Donald Trump, and they now like the other guy more. What hasn't changed is their reluctance to take a geopolitical lead of their own. We see the poll not so much as a sign of shifting allegiance, but a sign of continued weakness.

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