Transatlantic crystal ball. Young people like Russia more

Individuals aged 18 to 24, a generation born in the 21st century, familiar with technology and partly leading a virtual life, generally show more understanding for countries that potentially threaten them.

If public opinion surveys dictated the onset of wars, the days following the publication of the annual Transatlantic Trends report by the German Marshall Fund might have us bracing for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Citizens of the United States, Canada, ten European Union countries, the United Kingdom, and Turkey have no desire to fight for the island’s independence and are only slightly more inclined to even send weapons to its inhabitants. Moreover, young people show much more willingness than their older counterparts to cooperate with China, especially in the field of new technologies. They also have a more favourable opinion of Russia, which is significant for Chairman Xi and his acolytes. Is our transatlantic world, generationally, maturing to embrace an Asian peace?

While the question is posed with a hint of provocation, social sentiments can be fluid. Will young people from France or Germany still want to cooperate with China if it decides to occupy Taiwan? It’s uncertain. An optimist would say that definitely not, but a pessimist would point out that young Germans have a positive view of Russia at a time when it has been waging a war for a year and a half already. A war that, although close in media terms, is distant physically. The first problem can be easily solved by adjusting the settings of one’s Chinese smartphone to not show reports from Ukraine, while the second problem is truly distant. Poles and Lithuanians perceive Russia differently than the French and Italians do (although the Portuguese, with their radicalism, slightly distort this image).

While this study doesn’t possess prophetic insights, it does spotlight the challenges the transatlantic community will confront in the foreseeable future. The hardest challenge is dealing with what is inside of us – our fears, convictions, idiosyncrasies. All these influence how we vote. Since Fukuyama declared the end of history, we have noticed the era of great statesmen who could guide societies and lead them towards set goals has ended. Whether we like it or not, we – the members of societies – have become this collective “statesman” and must face the threats ourselves. Politicians try to influence us, but in the end, the ballot paper proves to be the decisive factor, and the direction in which we are heading is the result of both their intentions and our convictions. The GMF survey allowed us a deep dive. The picture that emerges is troubling.

Chairman Xi might be genuinely pleased and could even instruct his military brass accordingly. Only 10% of Americans would support sending troops to defend Taiwan if invaded by China. This is less than the group that wishes to take no action at all (12%). American society is the most decisive among those surveyed. In EU countries, the percentage of advocates for engaging in combat does not exceed 5%, which is roughly three times less than those wishing to do nothing. Preferred options on both sides of the Atlantic are diplomatic action (51%) and sanctions (27%).

It’s hard to predict any significant successes for diplomats, and regarding sanctions, considering the recent failure of the project to “decouple” Western economies from China and its replacement with a milder “de-risking” approach, which isn’t going well, the idea of imposing sanctions on Beijing seems, to put it mildly, not very serious. Moreover, such sanctions, if implemented only by Western countries, might result in an increase in China’s trade with the rest of the world, leading to a split in the global economy between two systems: the dollar and the yuan. The Chinese are striving for this to happen, but they are currently too weak. Sanctions would give this process a significant boost. This will likely be one of the significant factors considered by politicians debating the introduction of sanctions.

Battle for Taiwan. US losses: 10,000 casualties, two aircraft carriers sunk

China has a chance to win.

see more
At this point, it’s worth recalling the American report published at the beginning of this year about potential war scenarios over Taiwan. The report revealed that the US military is not 100% certain that it would win such a war. Moreover, in any case, the human and equipment losses would be massive. When discussing this report, I concluded that its publication might have been intended to “acclimate” the American and global public opinion to the realities of a possible armed conflict with China. If that was the intention, things probably did not go as anticipated.

Another reason for Chairman Xi to be satisfied should be the growing belief among Atlantic societies that China is a power, and a growing one at that, in contrast to the United States. While the US remains and will remain the world’s largest player in the near future, its significance is declining. Currently, when asked who has the most influence in the world, the response is America (64%), the European Union (17%), and China (14%). However, when asked about the situation in five years, the picture changes dramatically: only 37% believe the US will dominate, 30% point to China, and only 14% to the European Union.

  Furthermore, there’s a clear divide between American and European views. Europe is also divided between the more “American” parts (Poland, Lithuania, Portugal) and the “old Europe” (Italy, France, Germany). In the US, three times more people believe their country will remain the most powerful than believe in China’s rise (59% – 22%). Similarly, almost half of Poles and Lithuanians (45% and 48% respectively) bet on America, while only one in seven (18% and 15%) bet on China. In Western Europe (except Portugal), the proportion is the opposite: in Italy, twice as many people believe that in five years, China will be the most important in the world, not the US (51% vs 25%). In France, the numbers are nearly identical (42% vs 25%), and in Germany, the proportions balance out, but still, more respondents believe in China’s rise over America (34% to 31%).

However, recognizing China’s rising prominence doesn’t equate to an endorsement of its global actions. On the contrary, in all countries except Romania and Turkey, a higher percentage of people view China’s influence negatively than positively. In Germany, 63% view it negatively versus 18% positively. In France, the ratio is 57% to 26%, and in Italy, 52% to 31%. In America, 58% view China’s influence negatively, and 26% see it positively. These results are strangely inconsistent. It seems that Europeans, especially the “old” ones, are overtaken by a kind of resignation. They see the rise of an Eastern superpower and predict it will become even mightier, yet they believe its global influence is harmful. Americans similarly assess China’s role but optimistically believe they will prevail and continue to dominate globally. It’s a spirit of fight versus a spirit of resignation. Poland and Lithuania clearly side with America. How much of this is awareness, and how much a spirit of solidarity?

Let’s look at the responses about current cooperation with China. From many areas, I chose two that are particularly important for Chinese leadership: new technologies and trade. It turns out that in both these fields, a higher percentage of people believe we should cooperate more with China than those who want a tougher stance towards Beijing. In new technologies, it’s 40% to 26%, and in trade, 35% to 30%. Here, a divide is revealed between the US and its transatlantic partners; in the US, the proportions are the opposite: for new technologies 28% to 33%, and for trade 26% to 39%. On our side of the Atlantic, the Turks are the most enthusiastic about cooperation, with seven times as many supporters of cooperation as supporters of a tough policy. Even in economically significant Germany, there are more people who would prefer cooperation in new technologies (37%) and trade (30%) than restrictions (24% and 26%). Interestingly, in Lithuania, which has a very hard political course towards trade with China, a vast majority of respondents disagree with the government’s policy: over half want cooperation, and only a few percent support a tough stance.
Fot. printscreen/
All in all, it seems that the societies of allied countries desire peace and cooperation. While this sentiment, in and of itself, is commendable and is in line with the standard rhetoric of politicians in the UN, many of these societies appear unwilling to deeply contemplate with whom they are cooperating, the consequences of such cooperation, and the real costs of the peace they expect. Perhaps we are entering an era of dictators, an era where democratic societies are confronted with established facts. Will such confrontations prompt a transformation in their thinking?

The perspectives of the survey’s youngest participants provide some insights, though they aren’t particularly heartening. Young people, defined here as those aged 18 to 24 – a generation born in the 21st century, acclimatised to technology and leading a partly virtual life – tend to show more understanding towards countries that potentially threaten them. In the UK, 21% of respondents view China’s influence on world affairs positively. However, this average is skewed by the responses of age groups, with almost half (39%) of the youngest and only 6% of the oldest holding this view. In the US, this ratio is 33% to 8%, and in France, it’s 45% to 14%.

A very similar trend emerges in responses about Russia’s influence. Averaging the results from 14 countries yields a crushing verdict for Putin’s homeland: 71% view Russia’s influence negatively, while only 18% see it positively. However, diving deeper into the views of different generations alters this picture. In America, 88% of respondents aged 55 and over view Russia’s influence negatively. This percentage plummets to 53% when focusing only on younger respondents. Among the latter, as many as 30% view Russia’s influence positively, an opinion shared by just 4% of the oldest age bracket. In Europe, the most striking generational divide on this topic is seen in Germany, where a remarkable 37% of the youth view the Kremlin’s influence on global affairs as positive.

The authors of the GMF report did not disclose the entire study, so we only have piecemeal data about this generational divide as conveyed in the text. The graphs show averaged results for all age groups, so we don’t know to what extent the difference in thinking between generations is a widespread phenomenon, whether it pertains to all surveyed societies, and which topics beyond the ones mentioned are affected. It will be worth paying special attention to this. As the old saying goes, “youth are the future of the world.” Should the world start to fear this future?

– Robert Bogdański

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by jz

Main photo: Chinese special forces exercises in Nanning in August 2023. Photo by CFOTO / ddp images / Forum
See more
Civilization wydanie 22.12.2023 – 29.12.2023
To Siberia and Ukraine
Zaporizhzhia. A soldier in a bunker asked the priest for a rosary and to teach him how to make use of it.
Civilization wydanie 15.12.2023 – 22.12.2023
Climate sheikhs. Activists as window dressing
They can shout, for which they will be rewarded with applause
Civilization wydanie 15.12.2023 – 22.12.2023
The plane broke into four million pieces
Americans have been investigating the Lockerbie bombing for 35 years.
Civilization wydanie 15.12.2023 – 22.12.2023
German experiment: a paedophile is a child's best friend
Paedophiles received subsidies from the Berlin authorities for "taking care" of the boys.
Civilization wydanie 8.12.2023 – 15.12.2023
The mastery gene
The kid is not a racehorse.