Cold War analogies between China and West are misleading and dangerous, Tony Blair Institute says

Polling finds western public opinion more hostile towards Beijing since coronavirus pandemic

FILE PHOTO: Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks during an interview with Axel Threlfall at a Reuters Newsmaker event on "The challenging state of British politics" in London, Britain, November 25, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo
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The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has warned that Cold War analogies between China, with its newfound international influence, and the West were "misleading and dangerous".

Polling by YouGov on behalf of the institute found a sharp move towards antipathy when it came to China from respondents in Britain, France and the US.

In a report on the polling, published on Wednesday, the institute  said that move had hardened since the coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, in Hubei province.

The polls revealed that the British, German, French and American people were likely to hold the government of Xi Jinping more responsible than their own governments for the severity of the pandemic.

A majority of people in Britain, the US and France and a plurality in Germany actively see the Chinese government as a force for bad in the world and their opinion has worsened through the pandemic. Courtesy Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly accused China over trade and its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, although Beijing has described Washington's fears over its influence as anti-Chinese hysteria.

Mr Trump’s government did not emerge unscathed from the poll results, with respondents recording very low trust in the honesty of his administration on the subject of Covid-19.

The World Health Organisation, which has come under intense criticism in recent months over its dealing with the coronavirus crisis, was deemed the most trustworthy of all international institutions, including the UN, the EU and the superpowers.

The report talks of forecasts that China’s rise in the past two decades would make it the world’s largest economy, but that the balance of global power would probably continue to be in the US's favour.

Mr Blair said there was a need for the West to take a strategic and “not ad hoc or purely reactive” view of relations with China.

“In framing such a strategic view, we should be mindful of distinguishing between two different developments,” he said.

There is extremely low trust in the Chinese and US governments to tell the truth about the coronavirus pandemic. Courtesy Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

“The first is that we are now dealing not with a rising China but a risen China, and this rise is both inevitable and right.

"China is a large population country – three times the size of the US – an ancient civilisation with deep roots of intellect and culture, an economic power, a technology innovator, and therefore for sure set to take its place as a global superpower.

“Given the deep economic links between China and the West, Cold War analogies are misleading and dangerous.

"On the other hand, in recent years China’s leadership has moved to a much more assertive/aggressive posture, internally and externally.

“And in respect of Covid-19, there is no doubt that there are serious questions to be asked of China’s government.”

But Mr Blair said that the Chinese people's pride in their country and its achievements since the start of opening up 40 years ago were not only natural but justified.

He said that if change were to come in the way China was governed, it would emerge from within, and that it was in everyone's interests that the country was stable and prosperous.

Mr Blair said that the West would have to be prepared to challenge China in some areas where values and interests conflicted.

He said the West should also "compete with China where it is legitimate, and be ready to co-operate with China where it is necessary and to the benefit of the West, China and the world".

“In developing this strategic framework, the US, Europe and our Asian allies should stand together so that any partnership with China comes from a position of strength; engage China, actively and intensely, both at the level of government and people to people; and in doing so enlarge the space for co-operation, shrink that of confrontation and keep competition according to international laws and norms.”