Former Yugoslav republics more inclined towards strengthening relations with China
10/18/2023 • Customer news
Former Yugoslav republics more inclined towards strengthening relations with China Not only Western decisionmakers, but the Central European public is also divided on how to manage economic relations with China. A poll conducted by CEPER in 12 countries of the region shows that there is a clear popular support neither for strengthening nor weakening economic ties with the People’s Republic. A relative majority is for closer or unchanged cooperation, while severing ties is not favoured by Central Europeans.
CEPER conducted an opinion poll in 12 Central European countries to better understand how Central Europeans think about their country and China’s relationship and CEPER results found a North-South divide on the China question. In 6 Central Eastern European countries, mostly Southern, them being Bulgaria and most of the former Yugoslav republics, the relative majority of the public favours strengthening economic relations with China. 50% of Montenegrins, 48% of Serbs, and 49% of Slovenes wished to strengthen economic ties with China. In Croatia (38%), North Macedonia (33%), and Bulgaria (42%), the largest proportion of respondents supported stronger economic connections. 34% of respondents from North Macedonia, an EU candidate and NATO member state, were not able to (or refused to) answer this question.
In other 3 regional (mostly Northern) countries, the relative majority favours keeping economic relations on the current level and these are Romania, Slovakia, and Czech Republic. The countries with a more cautious attitude to China have stronger relations with the US. In Romania 42, in Slovakia 47, and in the Czech Republic it is 49% of the population that would not change the current level of economic ties with China. That is, they would neither deepen, nor weaken trade relations with the People’s Republic. Among them, the Romanian society is the most critical: 35% of Romanians wish to weaken economic relations with Beijing, which is 11 percentage points higher than in any other regional country.
There is also a third, rather undecided group of Central European countries. In these nations, the gap between those who prefer ’more economic relations’ and those who argue for ’unchanged relations’ is not significant. In Austria the gap is only 8, in Poland 7 and in Hungary 1 percentage points. Neither strengthening, nor weakening or holding economic relations unchanged have more than 40% support in these societies. 28% of Austrians, 34% of Hungarians and 27% of Poles are in favour of deeper relations. 22% of Austrians and Hungarians, while 13% of Poles wish to seek weaker trade relations with China.
In general, weakening ties with China was not supported in either of the studied countries. A majority of respondents valued economic ties with China and – especially in the more Southern countries in the region – saw potential in expanding trade relations. However, it does not mean that a de-risking strategy would not be popular. The only question is what it means exactly.
The Belt and Road Initiative of the People’s Republic of China marked its 10th anniversary in September. Over the past decades, due to the Belt and Road Initiative and other projects strong economic ties developed between Central Europe and China. According to Eurostat, China was the EU’s top partner with the highest value of exports in 2022. While in 2002 imports from China stood at 7.8% of the total EU imports of goods, by 2022 20.9% of EU imports originated in China. There is a growing interdependence between European member states and this Asian country which Western decisionmakers try to tackle with a de-risking strategy.
The opinion poll survey was carried out in 12 countries in the Central European region: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Poland. The data were collected between 21 August and 08 September 2023 (in October 2023 in Hungary). The survey was conducted by telephone (in person in Serbia and Montenegro) with 1,000 respondents per country. The sample per country is representative of gender, age, and type of settlement.
CEPER is the brand of CEPER Group GmbH. The CEPER acronym abbreviates Central European Perspectives. CEPER's area of expertise is Central European affairs, the company offers media monitoring, market research, and opinion polls from the region to its clients.