Former prime minister Tony Blair has said it is ‘misleading and dangerous’ to compare a thawing of relations between the West and Beijing over the coronavirus to the Cold War.
A major survey of public opinion commissioned by Blair’s Institute for Global Change indicated a shift to a ‘markedly more hostile attitude’ from the West towards China.
The former prime minister said China had ‘serious questions’ to answer about the Covid-19 outbreak, as the YouGov survey of citizens in the UK, US, Germany and France suggested that attitudes to Beijing had hardened during the pandemic.
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The study indicated 60% of British and French citizens viewed China as a ‘force for bad’ in the world, a view shared by 56% in the US and 47% in Germany.
Just 3% of Britons, 4% of Germans and 5% of French and US citizens viewed China as a force for good.
Attitudes towards Xi Jinping’s government had hardened since the pandemic among 60% in Britain, 55% in France, 54% in the US and 46% in Germany.
Blair said the poll showed ‘there has been, during the Covid crisis, a sharp move amongst Western public opinion, to a markedly more hostile attitude towards China’.
But he urged the West to take a strategic view of the relationship with China rather than an ‘ad hoc or purely reactive’ stance.
Relations, especially between Donald Trump’s US and China, have deteriorated markedly in recent years.
Analysis by Blair’s institute suggest a ‘light Cold War’ or a ‘great power rivalry’ between the two were the most likely scenarios.
Blair said the rise of China was both ‘inevitable and right’ given its population, economic power and record on technological innovation and it was set to become a global superpower.
But he stressed that ‘given the deep economic links between China and the West, Cold War analogies are misleading and dangerous’.
There had been a more aggressive posture from Beijing, both internally and externally, with ‘more combative’ relations with countries with which it has disagreements.
But the Chinese people are not the same as the Chinese Communist Party and ‘if change comes to the way China is governed it will come from within’.
Blair added: ‘It is in the interests of no one that China is anything other than stable and prosperous.’
The West will have to be prepared to confront China where its actions go against the interests of the wider international community and must be able to compete with Beijing but also co-operate where necessary.
The US, Europe and like-minded Asian countries must stand together so that any partnership with China ‘comes from a position of strength’.
The West must ‘actively and intensely’ engage with China – both at the level of government and people-to- people – in order to ‘enlarge the space for cooperation, shrink that of confrontation and keep competition according to international laws and norms’.