Supporters of the Fridays for Future climate action movement, including one holding a sign showing Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Berlin, Germany.

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China and Russia are considered less of a threat to Western populations now than a year ago, as public concern pivots to non-traditional risks such as mass migration and radical Islam, new research said.

Public perception of traditional hard security risks remains higher now than three years ago but has fallen since 2022, the year Russia invaded Ukraine, survey results from the Munich Security Index 2024 showed.

The findings point to a disconnect between public sentiment and political policy as world leaders meet later this week at the Munich Security Conference to discuss what the organizers called a “downward trend in world politics, marked by an increase in geopolitical tensions and economic uncertainty.”

Top of the agenda will be the ongoing wars between Russia and Ukraine and Israel and Hamas, as well as NATO expansion and a potential return of Donald Trump to the White House.

Public opinion was broadly aligned on medium-term economic and geopolitical risks, however, with the majority of respondents in Western countries of the view that China and other powers from the Global South would become more powerful over the coming decade while Western powers were more likely to stagnate or decline.

In the polling of 12,000 people across G7 countries plus Brazil, India, China and South Africa, few Western respondents believed that their country would be more secure and wealthy in 10 years’ time. By contrast, most of those in emerging economies thought they would be better off financially and in political terms.

Russia, China risks on the decline

While Russia ranked as a top threat for G7 countries last year, the majority of those perceived risks have since faded, according to the study conducted from October to November 2023.

Only citizens from the U.K. and Japan still consider Moscow a top risk this year, while Germany and Italy recorded a significant easing of concerns. Included in that were waning worries around the risks of nuclear conflict and disruptions to energy supplies.

China was also seen more favorably this year than last by five of the G7 countries, with Canada and Japan the exceptions. Notably, though, Chinese respondents saw all countries apart from Russia and Belarus as more threatening now than before. It was also the only country to name the U.S. as a threat.

Perceptions of non-traditional risks increased across all countries, however, with people around the world expressing concern about environmental threats, the risks of mass migration as a result of war or climate change, and organized crime. Environmental issues ranked as a top three concern in all countries except the U.S.

The perceived threat of radical Islam also showed a marked increase, though the report’s authors noted that sentiment was mainly concentrated in Europe and North America, and was likely a consequence of the Israel-Hamas war.

Cybersecurity issues, meanwhile, ranked as a top risk in China and the U.S., as both countries step up their restrictions against one another in the race for technological dominance.

The index was accompanied by a report entitled “Lose-Lose?,” which pointed to the continued shift away from global cooperation and toward transactional, protectionist policies.

IMF chief: China must show determination to take on economic reforms

“As more and more states define their success relative to others, a vicious cycle of relative-gains thinking, prosperity losses, and growing geopolitical tensions threatens to unroll. The resulting lose-lose dynamics are already unfolding in many policy fields and engulfing various regions,” the report said.

It added that this year’s super election cycle could further exacerbate the risks of “democratic backsliding, growing societal polarization, and rising right-wing populism,” further unseating international cooperation.

“Populist forces have further amplified the sentiment that some actors are gaining at the expense of others, as an extreme form of liberalism ‘exacerbates who wins and who loses from economic globalization,'” it added.

The report suggested that the re-election of Trump as U.S. president could potentially “spell the end of trusted cooperation among democratic states.” Indeed, on Saturday the Republican presidential candidate said that he would “encourage” Russia to attack NATO allies if they did not meeting their spending commitments.

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