KUALA LUMPUR, April 1 ― Malaysians have expressed increasingly positive views about China amid its growing economic influence in the region, polls have shown.
Local pollster Merdeka Center reported that the number of respondents who believed that China had the most influence in Asia rose from 2011 to 2014.
This was accompanied by an increase in those who felt China had a positive influence on Malaysia and who said China should be a model for Malaysia’s future development.
“Polling shows that while views towards US has remained unchanged, views towards China show marked improvement,” Merdeka Center said in a collection of surveys titled “Malaysian views towards China perspectives from public opinion surveys 2011-2016” sighted by Malay Mail Online.
According to the surveys, 39 per cent of respondents said in 2014 that China had the most influence in Asia, up from 32 per cent in 2011.
Seventy-eight per cent of respondents said in 2014 that China had a positive influence on Malaysia, up from 74 per cent in 2011, while 19 per cent said in 2014 that China should be a model for Malaysia’s future development compared to 13 per cent in 2011.
Half of respondents said in 2014 that China would have the most influence in Asia in 10 years’ time, up from 38 per cent in 2011, while those who believed the US would be the most influential in the region in a decade dipped slightly to 23 per cent in 2014 from 24 per cent in 2011.
The collection of Merdeka Center surveys, which included one conducted between October 26 and November 9 last year, also revealed Malaysians’ favourability towards foreign countries, with Japan being the most favoured nation at 51 per cent, followed by Singapore (42 per cent), Saudi Arabia (38 per cent), China (35 per cent), Indonesia (30 per cent), the UK (29 per cent), Thailand (28 per cent), the US (26 per cent), India (20 per cent) and the Philippines (18 per cent).
There was a rise in the number of ethnic Chinese respondents who perceived China as having the most influence in Asia from 56 per cent in 2011 to 59 per cent in 2014, while 70 per cent of ethnic Chinese believed in 2014 that China would have the most influence in the region in a decade, up from 60 per cent in 2011.
The surveys also showed a drop in Malaysians who believed that Malaysia should be its own model for future development, from 31 per cent in 2011 to 15 per cent in 2014. The three main ethnic groups all registered decreases, with Malays dropping to 21 per cent in 2014 from 40 per cent in 2011, ethnic Chinese (4 per cent from 19 per cent), Indians (11 per cent from 35 per cent), and Bumiputera (13 per cent from 24 per cent).
The Merdeka Center survey that was conducted in 2016 had a sample size of 1,205 voters, who came from across the country.
Merdeka Center director Ibrahim Suffian told Malay Mail Online that various parties had commissioned the earlier surveys, including the Asian Barometer Survey under the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies, National Taiwan University; as well as Universiti Malaya.
The 2016 survey, he said, was Merdeka Center’s own poll that also measured Malaysians’ perception towards China’s investments in Malaysia and perceptions on China-Malaysia relations.
China has invested billions of dollars into Malaysia in recent months, with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group setting up a trade and logistics hub in Malaysia’s new Digital Free Trade Zone that was launched last week.