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Dutch and American Publics Wary of China's Growth

Running Numbers by Meghan Bradley
Reuters
A view of the Damrak street, an avenue at the centre of Amsterdam, running between Amsterdam Centraal in the north and Dam Square.

Dutch and American publics do not see China’s economic growth as beneficial and view the country as a security threat.

China's Economic Growth

China’s rise as a global economic superpower has led to a rapid rise in the nation’s foreign direct investment around the globe, including in Western Europe and North America. Publics on both sides of the Atlantic have taken notice, and some are concerned about what China’s economic growth means for them.

Recent attempts at economic partnership between China and the European Union have not come without challenges and controversy. In May of 2021, the EU Parliament indefinitely froze ratification of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, citing Chinese sanctioning of EU human rights advocates. There seems to be some similar sentiment among publics in the region. In the case of the Netherlands, the Clingendael Institute’s September 2020 poll found more skepticism than optimism: a plurality (42%) did not believe that potential Chinese investment in the Netherlands would present major economic opportunities for their country.  

The American public appears even more concerned about economic engagement with China. In the 2021 Chicago Council Survey, more Americans believed trade between the US and China did more to weaken US national security (58%) than strengthen it (38%). This position represents a major shift in the United States. Just two years ago, a majority of Americans (64%) saw trade between the US and China as strengthening US national security. 

 China as a Security Threat 

Surveys also find that many in the Netherlands and the United States view China as a security threat. In a March 19-21, 2021 Chicago Council survey, 53 percent of Americans classified China’s military power as a critical threat to the United States, with another 41 percent naming it as an important but not critical threat. The same survey also found that most Americans viewed China as more of a security threat (79%) rather than as a security partner (21%). The September 2020 Clingendael Foreign Affairs Barometer yielded similar findings. In the Netherlands, 46 percent of the public viewed China as a threat to the security of Europe, with far more remaining neutral (38%) than disagreeing (16%).  

 While the United States and the Netherlands are only two countries, these alignments in public opinion towards China exemplify a broader global shift in which Western countries are beginning to recognize China’s rise as a potential threat to their economic and security interests. 2021 saw a number of carefully plotted diplomatic moves from Western countries seeking to counterbalance China’s global influence. These included President Biden’s convening of the Summit for Democracy, the AUKUS submarine and defense technology agreement, and an increased focus on China from NATO.  

If public opinion trends offer any indication, this skepticism and competition between China and Western powers should not be expected to stop any time soon. 

About the Author
Meghan Bradley
Intern, Public Opinion
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Meghan Bradley is an intern on the Council's public opinion team. Outside of the Council, Bradley is pursuing a master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Chicago with a particular interest in gender, conflict, and anti/post-colonial studies.
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