China has a big image problem on the other side of the Pacific, with a Pew Research Centre survey suggesting that nine in 10 Americans now view it as a competitor or an enemy, rather than a partner, and a majority in favour of pressuring Beijing on human rights and economic issues.
The results dovetail with a recent sharp deterioration in relations. Some 67 per cent of respondents in the survey, released on Thursday, reported holding a “cold” feeling toward China this year, up from 46 per cent in 2018.
“I don’t know if it can get any lower,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
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“But the fact that both Republican and Democrat administrations have framed the relationship as strategic competition and highlighted numerous threats that China has posed, it’s not surprising that more and more Americans – who are reading and hearing about this on a daily basis – are more and more concerned, and have an unfavourable view of China.”
The survey of 2,596 adults, taken in early February, was weighted to represent the US population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan preference and education.
The results dovetailed with a similar poll by Gallup released earlier this week, which found that just 20 per cent of Americans, an all-time low, held a favourable view of China, with only Iran and North Korea less popular.
The Pew survey found Americans less united, however, on whether President Joe Biden will be able to handle US-China relations, with a stark partisan divide. Overall, 53 per cent expressed confidence in Biden’s ability to deal with Beijing, but only 19 per cent of Republicans did, compared with 83 per cent of Democrats.
Laura Silver, a Pew senior researcher, said that it was not clear to what extent this reflected appraisals of Biden’s abilities, or if it was more a view of the challenge facing anyone confronting an increasingly powerful and assertive China.
Topping the list of Americans’ concerns about China were human rights, followed by economic issues, China’s political system, security threats and the broader US-China relationship. Only 15 per cent expressed confidence that Chinese President Xi Jinping would do the right thing on global affairs.
Nearly half the respondents said that limiting China’s power and influence should be a top foreign policy priority, up from 32 per cent in 2018. And 55 per cent favoured limiting Chinese students attending US universities, a potential detriment to improved people-to-people relations.
Nearly half the respondents said that limiting China’s power and influence should be a top foreign policy priority, up from 32 per cent in 2018.
And 55 per cent favoured limiting Chinese students attending US universities, a potential detriment to improved people-to-people relations.
“Not many Americans understand the nuance. We benefit from having Chinese students come to the US and get graduate degrees,” said Glaser, herself a non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute in Australia, citing the number studying in scientific and technological fields.
“Many stay in the United States and benefit our country by helping us maintain our technological edge.”
“And there’s been an uptick in really racist treatment of Asians in our country, a very negative consequence,” she added. “All this negativity toward China doesn’t necessarily play to our advantage. I wish we could provide more education to the American public. It’s not black and white.”
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