Chinese Perspectives: The EU Referendum

As you all know, this June 23rd will see the EU Referendum to decide the UK’s future within the European Union. The referendum itself has been the topic on a lot of minds these last few months, from politicians to celebrities, and almost everyone has something to say about the way they think the referendum should go.

Here at Propeller TV, our office consists of a lot of people from a lot of backgrounds, and thus, everyone naturally has their own opinions. Sharing these opinions can be very interesting in understanding what others, particularly those who are not necessarily British, or even European, think. In fact, the EU Referendum is a talking point the world over. Perhaps many of us here in Britain forget that the repercussions may have an impact not just here, but in many areas, particularly in the realms of trade or commerce. Yet, whilst those who are not British do not have the chance to vote in this referendum, and those who are not European will arguably not see the direct, first-hand impact of the referendum result, it is nonetheless interesting to consider what people outside of Europe are saying, and what their opinions are. Obviously, we are Propeller TV - with our focus firmly on China, what can we learn from our friends over in China, and what are their opinions?

We asked our friends on our official Propeller TV WeChat account to answer a short question, and leave any comments they may have. We framed the question casually, in a way appropriate to Chinese social media, which is why the question and responses (below) might seem a little different to what one might expect from a typical opinion poll;

As I mentioned, whilst our poll question was far from serious and formally raised, it did encourage our friends on WeChat to respond. So, what do you think the result would be? Would our Chinese friends support the UK leaving Europe, or would they hope that we remain? Or do they simply not care?

Before we get to the result of our poll, I think it would be interesting to look at official Chinese responses to the EU referendum. It doesn’t get more official than Chinese president Xi Jinping, so what did he have to say?

During his state visit to the UK, President Xi Jinping released his official stance on the EU Referendum. During a meeting in Manchester, he was reported as saying that he hoped the UK would remain within the European Union. The Chinese foreign ministry paraphrased, stating;

“China hopes to see a prosperous Europe and a united EU, and hopes Britain, as an important member of the EU, can play an even more positive and constructive role in promoting the deepening development of China-EU ties.”

Obviously, there is an economic undertone to this statement. Xi Jinping, along with other World Leaders including President Obama, are worried about the impact this referendum might have on free-trade, particularly within the Eurozone. Remain campaigners have used Xi Jinping’s stance in their own arguments, insisting that it shows that the UK is not guaranteed to have continued trade with existing partners should we vote leave. Then, should we be concerned? China is a huge economy and an important trade partner for the UK, after all. Not just world leaders, but many economists, business leaders, and academics are also worried about the impact leaving the EU would have on British trade with China, particularly in establishing new free trade agreements. With so much worry, we should definitely vote remain, should we not? Leave supports, however, argue that as it currently stands, the EU has failed to make free trade agreements with China, and struggles to do so, whereas smaller countries have existing trade agreements. Then, could we have hope for continuing our strong trade relationship with China even after leaving? The leave campaigners certainly think so.

The reality is that it is too early to tell what impact the referendum would have on our trade with China. Chinese business leaders and academics have remained mainly quiet about their own opinions on the EU referendum. Could this be because they agree with the general consensus of their government, or perhaps, they simply are not worried because they feel it does not affect them?

Finally, then, we can return to our short poll. You may already have some ideas about the result in your mind, so let us get straight to it. The responses were as follows;

Was the response unexpected to you? Almost half of the Chinese respondents voted in favour of Brexit, against what their own president urged. Similarly surprising is that only 21% felt the referendum was meaningless to them. So what does this show?

Firstly, I think it important to note that the EU Referendum is not just an issue for us to consider as British people. Yes, the choice is ultimately ours, but a lot of people the world over, who do not get to vote, still have strong feelings, and they still have ideas of what is the best course of action. People feel strongly about this referendum, and people other than the British want to share their opinion. One person commented;

Oh dear, it looks as if we upset someone! Our Chinese writer headed the article, and the poll, telling readers they 'could vote', and as a result, some of our WeChat readers felt misguided that their vote did not have a real weight to it, and would not make any difference in the real referendum. It is apparent that people outside of the UK would like to have a say in the referendum, or at least let their voice be heard, as this response to our informal poll demonstrates.

So, what of the results for the main points – remain and leave? It is important to point out that we cannot really make any concrete judgements based on our small opinion poll, because our readership is not large and cannot account for a population of over one billion. However, our readers certainly had some interesting points to make, and we can learn something by looking at them.

Indeed, terrorism is a problem the world over. Many countries are fighting against terrorism, and travellers often worry about their safety when travelling to popular tourist areas. Terrorism and security are strong concerns, even for British voters, and we can see that people outside of the UK worry about the safety of not only themselves, but other countries and their residents. Our vote could affect global security if we break down the strong union we have with Europe, or it could strengthen it if we are given the chance to build our own systems and securities.

Perhaps the biggest concern for everyone is money and the economy, and of course our Chinese friends are worried about this too. There are risks associated with both remaining and leaving. European Union membership costs Britain an extremely large amount of money, and we cannot necessarily say how it is spent, or if it is spent in a way that will benefit us. However, we also cannot predict exactly how the economy will change if we do leave. Will be left off in a worse situation? Will our choice impact trade, and thus the economy, in other countries? This reader very reasonably pointed out that both sides of this debate have pros and cons, and that it is important we consider the impact on important trade agreements. Is this a risk we can take?

In the end, we cannot say what the best choice is. Every individual will have their own perspectives and their own priorities. The main aim of our poll was to illustrate that the referendum extends beyond just the UK and Europe. Many people have an opinion, and many have their own concerns about the global impact of the result. Some voters here in Britain have argued that only the British should care about this, but I argue that we should consider the global impact. Do we remain, and keep the security of a system we already know, and the already existing success of our strong trade globally? Or do leave, and take a risk, one which might result in better results, new trade agreements, and a stronger economy?

The referendum is soon approaching, and we, along with many others, are eagerly awaiting the results – will we remain in familiar territory, or will we take a step into the unknown? Whatever your vote, make sure you do not miss out, and have your say on June 23rd!