Young people in three European countries are sharply critical of the world’s two most powerful countries, a study has found.
They are concerned about the US’s role as the “world’s policeman” and China’s growing economic might, says US-based Pew Research Center.
The findings are based on focus groups with some 120 adults aged 18-29 in the UK, France and Germany.
Participants were from across the ideological spectrum.
Many voiced concerns about how the US has wielded its power on the global stage and criticised its actions abroad as self-interested.
“Across all three countries and four ideological groupings, young Europeans are steadfast in the opinion that the US acts as the world’s policeman to the detriment of the world community,” the researchers wrote.
In particular, participants highlighted America’s military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan as examples of the US foreign influence having a damaging effect.
There was also an allegation of hypocrisy directed at the US for arguing for human rights and democracy abroad without fixing its problems at home. One French woman said “they’ve gone back on abortion rights”.
Emanuel Deutschmann at Germany’s University of Flensburg said young Europeans had lived their “formative years” through the Trump administration, which may have had lasting damage on their view of the US.
Underpinning the wariness of China’s economic dominance in the Pew study are severe critiques of the country’s domestic human rights abuses and military actions in the South China Sea.
“I think they’re great in terms of commodities but crap in terms of human rights,” said a right-leaning British woman, citing Chinese authorities’ treatment of Muslim minority groups.
Human rights groups believe China has detained more than one million Uyghurs over the past few years in a large network of what the state calls “re-education camps”.
It has also faced criticism for its crackdown on free speech in Hong Kong and the accusation it has redrawn the map in the South China Sea.
But those surveyed by Pew also acknowledged that untying their countries and themselves from China was “not a pragmatic goal” from an economic standpoint.
Prof Steve Tsang, director of the Soas China Institute, notes that young Europeans are often critical of their own countries – and “not particularly appreciative or admiring of authority and power to begin with”.
“Both the US and China in different ways represent that,” he says – making the study’s findings unsurprising.
Prof Tsang believes young Europeans have a different approach to the Americans and Chinese – focusing on the environment and living a good life.
They don’t like big countries “telling others what to do”. Americans are “more imperial than they would like to recognise” and China appears “very colonial”.
The London-based academic says young people in Europe draw lines between the US invasion of Iraq, its “shambolic” withdrawal from Afghanistan under Biden – and China’s actions in Xinjiang and the South China Sea.
Seeing Russia domineering in Ukraine has opened their eyes to China and Taiwan, he adds.
When the US assistance for Ukraine in its war against Russia was brought up by respondents, it tended to be in positive terms, especially by those young people who wanted to be tough on Russia.
But the Iraq and Afghan wars which had direct involvement by US troops had a greater part in shaping perceptions of US influence.
A US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban government in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
After 20 years of fighting which left tens of thousands dead on both sides, American combat troops withdrew in September 2021 and the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan.
In March 2003, the US and its allies invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, which they said had weapons of mass destruction.
However, no such weapons were found and US troops withdrew from the country in 2011, but the cost of the invasion is still being felt.
Hundreds of thousands of people are estimated to have died and the US withdrawal led to the rise of the Islamic State terror group, with consequences for global security.
In recent Pew surveys with a broader range of ages, the image of the US among Europeans was more positive, with improvement since the election of President Joe Biden who is keen to emphasise partnerships and alliances in foreign policy.
A Pew survey across 18 countries suggested people were feeling more positively about the US than about China.