A European understanding of China?
Published: Jun 14, 2024 09:30 PM
China EU Photo:VCG

China EU Photo:VCG

The mechanisms which contribute to form a hypothetical public opinion in Europe are multiple and complex, influenced and often determined by the wide diversity of social and cultural approaches, and often also by the multilingualism that distinguishes the different Countries, sometimes even operating within some of them. 

Naturally, information media play a fundamental role, holding the power to select and present news from various angles: alongside traditional ones such as the free press, radio and television, the most recent digital and social media are increasingly gaining more relevant space and are preferred by the younger generations, even if in many cases the authenticity of the sources cannot be relied on and sometimes they lend themselves to the spread of fake news. 

The variety of very vocal social and political formations such as spontaneous associations, trade unions, political parties or government institutions have a significant impact on public opinion through public initiatives and demostrations, official declarations, policies and electoral campaigns. The European Union also plays an important role with its communications and well publicized common policies, having among other things a very influential forum for public debate and the formation of supranational laws such as the European Parliament. In particular, various Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and grass-root movements often raise awareness and activate initiatives on specific social, environmental or political problems and can mobilize public opinion through campaigns and demonstrations.

Europeans' perception of China is complex and can vary considerably between the different EU member countries and within each of them, due to cultural and ideological differences. Almost everywhere there is a sense of apprehension about the speed of development of the entire economic, productive and social system of an immense Country, capable of achieving extraordinary progress and of converting itself with unexpected rapidity into the "manufacturing of the world" so much so as to be considered sometimes more like a "systemic rival" rather than a traditional business partner. 

Despite this, there is still a significant division of opinion: many Europeans consider China a "necessary partner" for economic reasons linked to the essential variety of industrial productions often with high technological content and for the unlimited potential of importing European productions, especially high quality ones, into a vast market with unlimited demand. 

However, there is growing awareness of the risks associated with economic and trade relations with China, especially regarding technological and industrial security. The relocation of a vast number of European companies to China has offered extraordinary development opportunities for mature companies with production costs that were no longer competitive at home, but has undeniably reduced employment levels in Europe, slowing down the competitiveness of very sensitive economic sectors. 

Relations between the EU and China are also influenced by US foreign policy. The American strategy to contain China has pushed Europe to take a sometimes unfriendly position on some issues, despite some difficulties inherent in transatlantic cooperation. The results of the European elections, combined with foreseeable political changes in the USA, could further modify this dynamic in the near future.

In conclusion, even if it is extremely difficult to identify clear and generalized trends, a kaleidoscope of political, social, linguistic and sometimes even ethnic elements characterize the European continent, while the European Union tries to balance the need for economic cooperation with China with the protection of its strategic and security interests, it appears that European public perception remains divided between practical and economic considerations from one side and growing geopolitical concerns from the other.

Achieving optimal relationships requires a multidimensional approach that takes economic, political and cultural aspects into adequate consideration. 

First of all, it is necessary for Governments, and their respective political and ministerial bodies, to maintain a high level of diplomatic dialogue and multilateral cooperation by strengthening political cooperation and increasing meetings at all levels to discuss bilateral and global issues, such as climate change, international security and trade.

The intensification of trade and investments will not fail to give substance to the amelioration of mutual relations by promoting the vital interests of mutual development and well-being. From this perspective, balanced trade agreements will certainly be able to protect investments, protecting the interests of the respective companies and guaranteeing equal access to markets. An indispensable corollary is the promotion of technological exchanges and the encouragement of cooperation in sectors such as green technology, renewable energy and artificial intelligence, promoting joint research and development projects.

The expansion of cultural and academic exchange and mobility programs will further increase mutual understanding, strengthening social ties. 

The pursuit of global standards on labour, environment and human rights in trade and investment relationships and advanced collaboration on cyber security with the development of common protocols to address cyber threats, must be a basic topic of strengthened and constant collaboration.

In the overall framework of sustainable development, strengthened support for joint sustainable and environmentally friendly infrastructure projects and forward-looking initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is desirable, as well as the development of joint policies to reduce carbon emissions and promote the use of renewable energy.

These topics certainly do not constitute a simple list of hopes and desires, they can be discussed together: solutions and implementation methods can be found by mutual agreement. 

This is undoubtedly a very far-reaching program that requires mutual trust and foresight, the realization of which requires sincere mutual commitment, diplomatic ability and a lot of good will to find the necessary compromises and mutually beneficial solutions.(The author is an Italian-Belgian journalist and writer)