Global survey: China viewed in more negative light

Pew found a median of 67% of adults in 24 countries view China disfavorably, with the trend worsening.
Alex Willemyns for RFA
2023.07.27
Washington
Global survey: China viewed in more negative light Visitors stand in front of a giant screen displaying Chinese President Xi Jinping next to a flag of the Communist Party of China, at the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution in Beijing, in 2022.
Florence Lo/Reuters

Majorities of people across the world view China in an increasingly negative light but believe the country’s technological achievements are beyond those of other wealthy countries, according to a new survey.

The survey, released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, also found middle-income countries the least likely to view China’s foreign policy negatively, with only neighboring India among eight such surveyed countries where a majority hold unfavorable views.

In total, 27,285 people in 24 countries were surveyed about China, Pew said, with the results showing a “median of 67% of adults express unfavorable views of the country” and “28% have a favorable opinion.”

“Most people also think China does not take into account the interests of other countries in its foreign policy (76%) and a median of 57% say China interferes in the affairs of other nations a great deal or fair amount,” the Pew survey said. Meanwhile, it said, a “median of 71% think China does not contribute to global peace and stability.”

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However, the negative views were strongest in high-income countries, with overall views “somewhat rosier” – even if not entirely positive – in middle-income countries like Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa.

“India stands out as the only middle-income country in which a majority has unfavorable views of China,” Pew said, noting that two-thirds there hold negative views. “And in three middle-income countries – Kenya, Mexico and Nigeria – a majority even gives China a positive rating.”

But even in these countries, the trend was mostly negative for China, with more people viewing China negatively than in Pew’s 2019 survey. In India, for instance, the figure jumped from 46% to 67%. In Brazil, it went from 27% to 48%, and in Mexico it jumped from 22% to 33%. 

In Indonesia, though, negative views of China dropped from 36% to 25%. Nigeria was steady with relatively few negative views, at 15%.

Technological advancement

Despite the widely negative views of the country, though, China’s technological progress is viewed in a largely positive light.

Pew found a median of 51% of people across the 24 surveyed countries viewed China’s technology as “above average” compared to other wealthy countries, and 19% saw it as “the best” in the world.

“In fact, outside of South Korea, nearly half or more in every country say Chinese technological advancements are the best in the world or above average relative to other wealthy nations,” the report said, with about four-in-10 in middle-income countries saying it’s “the best.”

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A cargo ship is seen at Lianyungang port in China's eastern Jiangsu province, Wednesday, July 26, 2023. More people in this year’s Pew survey saw the United States, not China, as the world’s pre-eminent economic power. (AFP)

Pew also noted it asked people in middle-income countries, “many of which are increasingly reliant on Chinese companies like Huawei for components of their 4G and 5G systems,” about their views on the quality of Chinese-made cell phones, tablets and computers.

“Across these eight countries, there is a relatively widespread sense that these products are well-made,” the report said. “Middle-income publics are more divided when it comes to their cost: A median of 50% describe them as inexpensive, while 44% call them costly.”

On the privacy of such Chinese-made devices, it said people around the world were divided: a median of 45% said they felt their data was “safe” on such devices, and a median of 40% said it felt “unsafe.”

Declining views of China’s economy

Views of China’s economic strength have also fallen around the world since Pew’s last round of surveys, which took place before COVID-19 and the near implosion of Chinese property firms like Evergrande.

The report notes that in 2020 in Canada, for instance, 47% of people viewed China as the world’s preeminent economic power, compared to 36% who said that about the United States. But this year, more people in Canada pointed to the United States (44%) than China (40%).

A similar trend took place around the world, with Australia one of the few places where more people are more likely to see China as the leading economy. Yet even there, the share fell from 55% to 50%, with those pointing to the United States growing from 34% to 39%.

Some of the worst falls occurred in Europe.

In Germany, the 55% majority who saw China as the world’s leading economic power in Pew’s 2020 surveys declined to 43% this year, with the United States rising in people’s estimations from 17% to 34%. 

In the United Kingdom, opinion is now split, with competing 40% blocs pointing to both the United States and China as the leader. But in 2020, 47% singled out China, compared to just 37% for the United States. 

“China’s image as an economic superpower is stronger in high-income countries than middle-income ones,” the Pew report notes, identifying Italy as the only high-income country where a majority (55%) put China ahead, with only 31% giving that mantle to the United States.

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