The West will sometimes clash with China now that it is a major power, but it is “misleading and dangerous” to think of it as a new Cold War, Tony Blair said.
A major survey of public opinion commissioned by Mr Blair’s Institute for Global Change indicated a shift to a “markedly more hostile attitude” from the West towards Beijing.
The former prime minister said China had “serious questions” to answer about the Covid-19 outbreak as the YouGov survey of citizens in the UK, US, Germany and France suggested attitudes to Beijing had hardened during the pandemic.
The study indicated 60% of British and French citizens viewed China as a “force for bad” in the world, a view shared by 56% in the US and 47% in Germany.
Just 3% of Britons, 4% of Germans and 5% of French and US citizens viewed China as a force for good.
Attitudes towards Xi Jinping’s government had hardened since the pandemic among 60% in Britain, 55% in France, 54% in the US and 46% in Germany.
Mr Blair said the poll showed “there has been, during the Covid crisis, a sharp move amongst Western public opinion, to a markedly more hostile attitude towards China”.
He urged the West to take a strategic view of the relationship with China rather than an “ad hoc or purely reactive” stance.
Relations, especially between Donald Trump’s US and China, have deteriorated markedly in recent years.
Analysis by Mr Blair’s institute suggest a “light Cold War” or a “great power rivalry” between the two were the most likely scenarios.
Mr Blair said the rise of China was both “inevitable and right” given its population, economic power and record on technological innovation and it was set to become a global superpower.
But he stressed that “given the deep economic links between China and the West, Cold War analogies are misleading and dangerous”.
Mr Blair added: “It is in the interests of no-one that China is anything other than stable and prosperous.”
The West will have to be prepared to confront China where its actions go against the interests of the wider international community and must be able to compete with Beijing but also co-operate where necessary.
The US, Europe and like-minded Asian countries must stand together so that any partnership with China “comes from a position of strength”.
Despite Mr Blair’s call for engagement with China, he said Britain would have to side with the US over the role of tech giant Huawei in 5G networks.
A review is being carried out into a decision to allow Huawei to play a limited role in the UK’s network in the face of US opposition.
At an event hosted by Reuters, Mr Blair said: “The fact is Huawei have an infrastructure that we need, it is already quite embedded and the truth is it’s a lot cheaper than the alternatives that have been developed up to now.
“One of the extraordinary things about 5G is the way that the West just allowed this advantage, this superiority, to be gained.”
He added: “It’s very hard for us not to be with the US on anything that touches US security.”