An in-depth look at how China perceives Europe has revealed a wealth of information to guide EU policymakers in developing better policies in order to enhance cooperation on numerous levels.
China is a growing global power and the EU hopes to forge closer ties with it. To develop more effective relations with this formidable nation, the bloc is studying how Chinese people regard the EU. The EU-funded project 'Disaggregating Chinese perceptions of the EU and the implications for the EU's China policy' (Chineseviewsofeu) produced a comprehensive picture of how the Chinese do indeed perceive the EU.
To understand how different groups of Chinese view the EU, Europe, and EU’s China policies, the Project collected a large amount of empirical data. They surveyed 3000 ordinary citizens across six cities in China as well as 700 elite members from China’s government officials, business leaders, intellectuals, media workers, and civil society activists. The researchers also interviewed 50 elite members of the above groups, conducted six folk group discussions for a total of about 80 urban residents in China, analyse China’s school history books, as well as the EU-related coverage in China’s main newspapers.
The project therefore generated the ever-first comprehensive view of how Chinese people and various social groups see Europe, EU, and EU and member states’ policies toward China. This is of tremendous importance for Europe’s engagement with China. Data showed that impressions of Germany, France and the United Kingdom dominated the Chinese view of Europe. The Chinese generally had a positive impression of European political, economic, social and cultural elements, showing preference for Europe over other major powers such as Japan, Russia and the United States.
Generally, there was very limited understanding between the EU and the Chinese public of each other's society and political institutions. But China presents great opportunities for EU’s further engagement, as Europe as a social, cultural, economic, and political entity enjoys significant amounts of good will and affection in the mind of urban Chinese citizens. Classical music (Mozart, Beethoven), poetry (Goethe, Dante, etc.), literature (Balzac, Victor Hugo, etc.), painting, Renaissances, Enlightenment, philosophy (Nietzsche, etc) always come to their minds when asked about their first impression of Europe. European ways of doing business, European practices and norms in environment protection, social policies and technology advancement, among others, are highly appreciated in China. Chinese school textbooks and mainstream media often portray Europe and EU in benign and positive ways. The more the respondents knew about the EU, the more positively they viewed it, implying a valuable opportunity for Europe to exploit.
It therefore leads to the great challenge in how EU and member states can benefit from such good wills and introduce the right policies toward China. The EU’s work in promoting environment protection, human rights, democratic governance, transparent government, intellectual property right protection, and fair market rules, are often considered too intrusive by the Chinese.
The researchers identified the perception of EU policy toward China as being highly influenced by Chinese media, EU and member states’ inability to appreciate Chinese perspectives on certain issues that are of critical importance to China also bring great damages to EU and member states’ image in China. Several highly contentious issues, including the Tibet and the Dalai Lama, Human Rights are often cited as the areas of disputes, and the Olympics torch relay in 2008 had a deep impact on Chinese citizens’ view of EU or Europe’s attitudes about China.
That also means EU and member states enjoy a differentiated goodwill balances. In certain areas, such as culture and consumer goods, EU can count on solid popularity in China, while in political and human rights areas, EU must be careful in reaching out to the Chinese side to build mutual understanding, and find out areas for potential collaboration. Regional, gender, generational, and sectional differences all exist, calling for the EU and member states to develop differentiated communication and engagement programmes as well.