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What does the world think of China? Pew survey says 68% in 19 nations not Beijing fans

About 79% of respondents think China’s human rights policies are a ‘serious problem’, but majority in 'over half the countries surveyed' thought relations between their nation & China were good.

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New Delhi: Around 7 in 10 people hold “unfavourable” views about China across 19 countries in Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific, according to a survey by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

Conducted between 14 February and 3 June this year, the survey asked a total of 20,994 respondents about their perception of China’s human rights policies, military power, economic competition, and its involvement in domestic politics. It also asked them about the bilateral relations between their country and China.

While a median of 79 per cent termed China’s alleged human rights violations a “serious problem”, the majority in “over half of the countries surveyed” thought relations between their nation and China were good.

The exceptions to this were South Korea, the US, Japan, and Australia, the latter three of which are India’s strategic partners in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad.

These were the only places where the majority of respondents held unfavourable opinions of China and also said that bilateral relations were in poor shape. These nations expressed greater concern than others about China’s involvement in their domestic politics.

When asked via email why India was not included in the survey despite sharing a border with China, senior researcher and co-author Laura Silver said that, since 2020, the focus has been on advanced economies where it is possible to get a nationally representative sample using online/phone surveys.

“When we were last able to ask Indians about their views of China in 2019, we found that 23 per cent had a favourable view of China, compared with 46 per cent who had a negative view (31 per cent did not offer an opinion),” she added.

The Pew survey also queried participants on their perception of the international influence of various countries, including India. Here, a median of 66 per cent across the 19 countries surveyed said China’s global influence was getting stronger, followed by 41 per cent for Russia, 32 per cent for the US, and 28 per cent for India.


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‘Bad opinion, good relationship’

Negative views about China, the survey report noted, “shot up” in 2020 in the wake of Covid, and were still “at or near historic highs” in most surveyed countries.

“Adults in Greece, the United Kingdom and the United States have become significantly more critical of China over the past year,” the survey report said.

It further noted a jump in unfavourable views by 21 percentage points each in Poland and Israel and 15 points in Hungary, which were all last surveyed in 2019. Belgium was the only country that showed a significant decline in unfavourable opinions about China, going from 67 per cent in 2021 to 61 per cent in 2022.

The survey results, however, contained something of a paradox. Despite a median of 68 percent respondents expressing unfavourable opinions about China, only 32 per cent said bilateral relations were not good.

Over the past year, for instance, unfavourable views about China jumped up by 8 percentage points in Greece. But while 50 per cent of respondents were critical of China, only 7 per cent said bilateral relations were bad.

Even in the UK, where 69 per cent of respondents expressed unfavourable views about China, only 42 per cent felt ties between the countries were poor.

But there were some significant exceptions to this pattern — the US, Japan, Australia, and South Korea all had negative opinions about China that were matched by unfavourable opinions about bilateral ties.

‘Type’ of threat perception matters

Every 8 out of 10 people said they thought China’s human rights policies a serious problem. This, however, did not necessarily predict a perception of bilateral relations as poor.

The survey report gave the example of the Netherlands, “which was the first in Europe to pass a motion declaring treatment of the Uyghurs in China to be a genocide”, and where the highest share of respondents (64 per cent) called China’s human rights policies a very serious problem.

Despite this, 65 per cent of Dutch respondents “think their country’s relationship with China is currently in good shape”, the report said.

Bilateral relations, however, tend to be seen negatively in countries where China’s involvement in domestic politics is deemed a major concern.

Calling it “one of the most important takeaways” from the survey, senior researcher and co-author Laura Silver said “those who see China’s involvement in domestic politics as a very serious problem are much more likely to say current bilateral relations with China are bad”.

While a median of only 26 per cent describe this issue as “very serious”, it is seen as “particularly severe” in South Korea, Australia, the US, and Japan, where the majority sees bilateral relations as being in poor condition.

Those surveyed among China’s neighbours also described its military power as a very serious problem, especially Japan (60 per cent) and South Korea (46 per cent). This figure was also high in Australia (57 per cent).

The survey report points out that South Korea’s negative views towards China “went up substantially” in 2017. That year, Seoul had installed an anti-missile system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), following which Beijing had launched an economic backlash.

Japan’s disaffection is even greater and has “always been among the most negative” in two decades of Pew surveys, the report says.

This year, 87 per cent of respondents expressed negative views, a shade lower than in 2013, when 93 per cent of Japanese had an unfavourable view following tensions in the East China Sea that year.

Economic ties vs human rights

When asked to choose between promoting human rights in China or strengthening economic ties with the Asian superpower, the majority of respondents from Western countries said they would prioritise the former.

However, opinion in the Asia-Pacific was divided. Although Australians (76 per cent) and Japanese (56 per cent) primarily believe that human rights should take precedence over economic ties, the majority in Malaysia (55 per cent), Singapore (60 per cent), and South Korea (62 per cent) thought the opposite.

Little confidence in Xi, but China’s influence growing ‘stronger’

According to the report, other than Singapore and Malaysia, the majority of respondents in the countries surveyed have “little to no confidence in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s approach to world affairs”.

Yet, a median of 66 per cent respondents believe China’s influence in the world has been getting stronger in recent years. This includes China’s biggest critics, with 66 per cent of Americans, 73 per cent of Australians, and 69 per cent of Japanese saying that they believe China’s power is increasing — and that too more than any other country that the survey asked about.

In the case of India, out of 19 countries, Australians had the highest share of respondents (36 per cent) stating that they think India’s influence in the world is getting stronger. However, 55 per cent think it’s “staying about the same”.

Among the other Quad members, 23 per cent of Americans and 32 per cent of Japanese think that India’s influence is getting stronger — 64 per cent and 48 per cent, respectively, from these countries believe India’s influence is staying the same.

The highest share of respondents stating that India’s influence is growing weaker are from Singapore (28 per cent) and Malaysia (27 per cent).

(Edited by Asavari Singh)


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