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‘West v rest’ no longer seen as template for global alliances, survey finds | World news

As the US and Chinese presidents meet on Wednesday in high-stakes diplomacy intended to reduce tensions between the world’s two superpowers, a survey of 21 countries shows that geopolitical alliances no longer fit a “west v the rest” frame.

Many in the west think it is in decline, many outside it want China to be more active in their economies and believe Russia will win its war against Ukraine, and many beyond Europe reckon the EU will not last another 20 years, according to the research, which concludes that global relations are becoming increasingly “a la carte”.

The report’s authors said political leaders in Europe and the US still tended to see the 21st-century world in terms of a bipolar rivalry between two different ideological and political systems, but the research suggested this was not how many people in and, particularly, outside the west perceived it.

The polling, for the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) thinktank and the University of Oxford’s Europe in a Changing World programme, showed Europe and the US were still seen as “more attractive and having more admirable values” than China and Russia, the authors said.

“But this does not translate into political alignment,” they write. “For most people, in most countries, we have entered an a la carte world where states mix and match their partners on different issues, rather than signing up to a set menu of allegiance to one side or the other.”

Faced with this reality the EU must adopt a policy of “strategic interdependence”, establishing a broad coalition of partners across a range of issues while at the same time boosting the bloc’s global standing, said the authors – the Guardian columnist Timothy Garton Ash, of the University of Oxford, and Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard, of the ECFR.

“The world is changing, and not in Europe’s favour,” Krastev said. “Any approach to strategy must begin with analysing the world as it is, not how we wish it to be. Looking at the confident way ‘middle powers’ like Turkey, India, Brazil and South Africa now conduct themselves on the world stage, the EU should take note.”

Garton Ash said the lesson was clear: “Europe’s ‘soft power’ must be complemented by more investment in the military and security dimensions of ‘hard power’.” Eastward EU enlargement would help make the bloc “a more powerful and credible global player”, he added.

Leonard said of the data, from countries including the US, China, Russia, Indonesia and South Korea as well as 11 EU member states, showed the bloc needed to “understand the new rules of an ‘a la carte game’ with respect to international relations, and seek new partners across crucial issues”.

The survey showed a tendency among respondents in countries aligned with the west to think it was in decline, with 47% of those in the US and 40% in South Korea pessimistic about their country’s future, while 86% in India, 74% in Indonesia and 69% in China were optimistic about theirs.


Globally, the west remained attractive, with large majorities in countries including South Korea (75%), Turkey (71%), Brazil (68%) and South Africa (65%) saying that, hypothetically, they would most like to live in Europe or the US.

The US and its partners were also favoured for geopolitical leadership, with majorities in South Korea (82%), India (80%), Brazil (66%), South Africa (54%) and Turkey (51%) saying they preferred the western bloc over China and its allies.


Similarly, large majorities and pluralities in many countries said they preferred their country to be closer to the US and its partners on the issues of human rights and security cooperation than to China and its partners.

However, asked if they felt closer to the US or China on trade, majorities in Russia (74%), Saudi Arabia (60%), South Africa, (60%), Indonesia (53%) and Turkey (50%) chose China, with only India (65%) and Brazil (50%) opting for the US.


Majorities in several of these middle-power countries also indicated acceptance of a Chinese economic presence in their countries – including Chinese companies being allowed to buy a major sports team, newspaper, tech company, or infrastructure – compared with only 29% in Europe.

Strikingly, outside the west the war in Ukraine appeared to be viewed as a proxy conflict between the US and Russia, with majorities in Russia (63%), China (57%), Saudi Arabia (54%) and Turkey (51%) believing the US was already “at war” with Russia, compared with 36% in the EU, 24% in India and 20% in the US.

There was little appetite outside the west for long-term support of Ukraine, with large pluralities of between 48% and 31% in China, Russia and several middle powers saying the conflict should end as soon as possible, against a prevailing view in the US and Europe that Ukraine needs to regain all its territory, even if it means a longer war.

Many outside Europe thought Russia would win the war, including majorities in Russia (86%), China (74%), India (63%), Indonesia (60%), South Africa (59%) and Turkey (55%). Even in the US, 52% thought Russia would win, while the figure was 46% for Europe.

Outside Europe, 41% of respondents held the view that the EU could “fall apart” in the next 20 years, including majorities in China (67%), Saudi Arabia (62%) and Russia (54%). Many appeared to tie its fate to the outcome of the Russia-Ukraine war, prompting the authors to suggest the EU’s own credibility was at stake in the conflict.


Pluralities across the world also believe the US could stop being a democracy in the next 20 years.

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