China's Mask Diplomacy Fails to Improve Europe's Opinion of Beijing

China's face mask diplomacy has done little to shift European opinion on Beijing amid the coronavirus pandemic, new polling data has revealed.

A survey released by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) found that many Europeans had a worse opinion of China as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, with more than 60 percent of French and Danish citizens saying their view of Beijing had changed for the worse.

According to the polling data published Monday, 62 percent of French and Danish respondents had a poorer view of China amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, while fewer than 10 percent reported their opinion of Beijing improving.

A plurality of Germans were also unhappy with China. Forty-eight percent reported their opinion of the country worsening amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, while 45 percent said their view of Beijing had stayed the same.

The remaining 7 percent of German respondents said their opinion of China had improved during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Visitors wear face masks in Paris
Visitors wearing protective facemasks queue as they wait for the partial reopening of the Eiffel Tower on June 25, 2020, in Paris. Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images

Italians took a more positive view of the Asian superpower, with 21 percent saying their opinion of China had improved during the coronavirus crisis. But a little more than a third (37 percent) of Italians still said their view of Beijing was worse, while 42 percent reported their opinion remaining the same.

By comparison, a little more than half of Swedish nationals (52 percent) said they had a more negative view of China, while 46 percent pluralities of Portugese and Spanish respondents took the same view.

The ECFR report said the survey data showed that Chinese authorities had left an "overwhelmingly negative impression" on European citizens amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In eight of nine surveyed countries, the share of respondents who have adopted a more negative view of China in the past year has increased by between a factor of two and a factor of ten," the report added.

The ECFR survey findings were released a little more than a month after the European Union's European Commission held up the delivery of 10 million masks from China over concerns about their quality.

Several European countries, including the U.K., have complained about the quality of protective equipment imported from China and undermined China's so-called "mask diplomacy" strategy to improve relations with Europe amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Andrew Small of the European Council on Foreign Relations told Newsweek in May that problems with equipment supplied by China were "reputationally damaging" for the country.

Responding to criticism of the masks supplied by Beijing, Chinese state media operations attempted to pin the concerns on sinophobia and Western insecurities. The regime-backed Global Times said helping the West was a "hard but thankless job" and said Chinese products were "undoubtedly reliable."

A report released by the French Institute of International Relations think tank at the end of April warned that China's "mask diplomacy" strategy was one of several factors that had contributed to a "cooler, and sometimes hostile attitude toward China in France."