What Do Chinese People Think of Developed Countries?

Perceptions of China have darkened in the United States and much of Europe. Are those feelings mutual?

By Adam Y. Liu, Xiaojun Li, and Songying Fang

December 18, 2020

This article is free

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What Do Chinese People Think of Developed Countries?

Credit: Illustration by Catherine Putz.

In October 2020, a Pew Research Center survey found that a median of 61 percent of citizens in 14 major economies hold unfavorable views of China. In countries such as the United States and Canada, negative views have reached historic highs. Major news outlets around the world picked up the story, with headlines such as “Distrust of China Jumps to New Highs in Democratic Nations,” “China Shocked to Discover the Developed World Views It in a Negative Light,” “China Has a Global Image Problem,” and “World Turns Sour on China.” The survey has generated much attention because China’s image abroad affects the extent to which China can play a leadership role in world affairs as it continues to rise. Some went as far as saying that “even if China could lead the world one day, it would never be loved.”

We investigated the other half of the story: How do ordinary Chinese view the rest of the world? Is a similar plunge in public opinion occurring in China toward the United States and its traditional allies? The Chinese public’s views of these countries matter to their perception of other countries’ intentions toward China, and their willingness to support engagement with these countries bilaterally and multilaterally.

With these questions in mind, we conducted a survey of 1,064 Chinese adults right before the U.S. presidential election. We asked them about their feelings toward the same 14 countries covered by the Pew study, using exactly the same wording: “What’s your view of the following countries?”

We found that the negative feelings are mutual. In particular, Chinese and Americans dislike each other to the same extent. In the Pew study, 73 percent of Americans held either “very unfavorable” or “somewhat unfavorable” views of China. On the Chinese side, the antipathy is even more widespread: 77 percent of the Chinese hold such views of the United States.




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Particularly surprising is the large increase from a previously known level of negativity toward the United States. Much is made of the result from the Pew study that negative views of China in the United States have jumped nearly 20 percentage points since President Donald Trump took office, rising 13 points since just last year. Yet this pales in comparison to the deterioration in Chinese views of the U.S. When the Eurasia Group Foundation polled Chinese opinions about the United States in October 2019, only 17 percent reported having unfavorable views. Then, in just twelve months, this number more than quadrupled.

So what has happened since last October? In a nutshell, all news about the U.S.–China relationship has been bad. Beginning with the trade war, the Huawei ban, and diplomatic rows over the Hong Kong protests, continuing with a significant escalation of animosity stemming from criticisms of each other’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic, and culminating in mutual closures of consulates — everything points to a rapid descent into a level of confrontation unprecedented since the two countries established formal ties in 1979.

Close U.S. allies also received significantly unfavorable views, though the percentages were generally lower than the corresponding negative views of China reported in the Pew survey. Japan is the second most disliked among the 14 countries listed, with 61 percent of the respondents holding either “very unfavorable” or “somewhat unfavorable” views of that country. Moreover, Japan was the only country other than the U.S. to receive more negative views than positive views from Chinese respondents. The result is not terribly surprising. Relations have at best been lukewarm between China and Japan, with unresolved historical issues surrounding the Japanese invasion of China, and an ongoing territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. In addition, Abe Shinzo’s government was seen as actively seeking U.S. support to counter China’s rise in Asia. However, while only 9 percent of Japanese respondents viewed China favorably in the Pew study, 37 percent of Chinese viewed Japan somewhat or very favorably.

The other three major U.S. allies — Australia, Canada, and the U.K. — received the next three highest percentages of negative views, with 47 percent of Chinese respondents holding “very unfavorable” or “somewhat unfavorable” views of both Australia and Canada, and 46 percent feeling that way about the U.K. Australia, which pre-empted even the United States in banning Huawei from its 5G network, has warned against alleged Chinese attempts to influence its domestic politics, and, much to Beijing’s chagrin, has called for a global investigation into the origins of COVID-19. China’s feud with Canada began last year with the arrest of Huawei’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou, at the request of the U.S., and the subsequent developments and associated analysis have dominated the coverage of Canada in the Chinese media. Prior to the episode, Canada was most known in China for being the home country of Norman Bethune, a beloved Canadian doctor who died of infection during the Chinese Civil War while saving lives on the frontline. As for the U.K., its strong and continuing criticism of China’s handling of last year’s Hong Kong protest movement has certainly caught the attention of the Chinese public. Still, more people in China hold favorable than unfavorable views of these three countries.

Continental European countries fared better with the Chinese public than the U.S. and its close allies, despite many of these countries having criticized Beijing’s foreign policies and domestic human rights practices. The majority of Chinese have either very favorable or somewhat favorable views on Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden, with Germany enjoying the highest combined positive rating of 69 percent.

A number of factors may explain the warmer feelings. First, several of these countries do not get much coverage on Chinese media, evidenced by the larger than average proportion of “don’t know” answers in the survey. When they do appear in the news, the stories tend to be positive and associated with constructive governmental relations — for example, Italians thanking China for sending an expert team to help fight COVID-19. Second, the Chinese government often puts it in its official media that China and Europe don’t have “fundamental conflicts of interest,” a narrative that might have some purchase among the Chinese public. Third, in the last four years, the EU has not been in lockstep with the U.S. on its China policy, which has been noted by Beijing and widely reported. In fact, with Trump initiating trade conflicts with both China and Europe, the Chinese may feel they are together with Europeans in facing economic uncertainty.

To sum up, while a negative perception of China is dominant in major economies, Chinese people’s views on these same countries are more varied. The negative feelings are mutual between the two largest economies in the world, where the recent plummeting of goodwill has been rapid. Chinese feelings about the United States’ close allies have also soured, though negative views are largely balanced by positive views. Continental European countries fare the best in the eyes of the Chinese people. It is possible that current negativity about Europe is only ephemeral and will soften by the time the pandemic ends, and Chinese people start to travel again, as these same countries are often their favorite destinations. However, the world should be concerned about the mutual antipathy Chinese and the Americans hold toward the other’s country likely outliving the pandemic, and even hardening as geopolitical rivalries persist and deepen.

The Trump administration attempted to draw a distinction between the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people, and made clear that the United States is confronting the former. However, our findings suggest that the distinction in all likelihood is lost in the eyes of the Chinese public, who hold just as much antipathy toward the United States as Americans do toward China. It’s unclear this will change after President-elect Joe Biden is sworn into office. As long as the strategic rivalry continues, mutual negative perceptions are likely to prevail and overshadow what will be the most important bilateral relationship in the world for years to come. Because support from domestic public is more important for the leader on each side than how the country is perceived internationally, an unintended crisis could escalate into military conflict, with both leaders finding it difficult to back down in front of their domestic audiences.

Adam Y. Liu is an assistant professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

Xiaojun Li is associate professor of political science at the University of British Columbia and non-resident scholar at the 21st Century China Centre at UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy.

Songying Fang is associate professor of political science at Rice University.

Source: The Diplomat “What Do Chinese People Think of Developed Countries?”

Note: This is The Diplomat’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.

12 Comments on “What Do Chinese People Think of Developed Countries?”

  1. Steve says:

    Over 40 years, China’s economic and trade surpluses inceased at a phenomenal rate, exporting high quality goods at an affordable price to developed nations and the rest of the world. China has prevented the world from falling into a depression let alone recession. The world should be sending emails to thank the Chinese Govt. for it’s economic stability and prowess in the past 40 years.

    China is the only major economy making trillions of $$$ trade surpluses amidst the raging coronavirus pandemic in 2020 … A strong possibility, according to economic experts that China may enjoy a double digit GDP in 2021. The Western developed economies can only drool at the prospect of China’s super economic powerhouse rising yet again at a phenomenal rate in 2021.

    ‘Phew’ pew research centre is irrelevant. The world citizens are hoodwinked by western fake news with jealousy, lies and hypocrisy, often smearing the good name of the CCP and China.

    Soon, China will become the number ONE world super economic powerhouse. The western developed nations will continue buying from the seller *Uncle Han*. We make and sell, they buy and spend.

    China is the winner here for decades to come.


    • komonsense says:

      Reuters and the guardian both just reported that China’s economy to be No.1 by 2028


      • Steve says:

        It’s leapfrog, upgrade, downgrade.and trickling down from years to months.

        Earlier reports predicted that by 2035, China will surpass the US to the podium of world’s largest economy. Latest report, China will surpass the united scoundrels in 2028.

        My leapfrog prediction is by ‘made in China 2025’. However, by China’s economic prowess will trickle down to months, whilst the united scoundrels downgraded to junk status and China upgraded to the world’s number One super economicpowerhouse.


  2. Simon says:

    China helped rescue sick Australian doctor in Antarctica in a complex mission is all over the news after China’s icebreaker ploughed through thick ice and sent it helicopter to pickup a team of Australians and sent them 40km inland in difficult terrain to get to the doctor and built the necessary landing structure so the American can land their rescue plane. How much of that contrasted with Australian and American media and politicians demonising China, that they would not lift a finger to help anyone and only engage in destructive behavior to westerners?

    Its not the first time China has rescued westerners trapped in Antartica but I have no doubt western countries often see Chinese present in Anartica as a threat, until of course when they needed rescuing by the Chinese.


    • komonsense says:

      So, the white Aussies were forced to eat humble pie served to them by none other than the Chinese.
      Looks like this will be an inconvenient and embarrassing truth for Morrison……


    • Joseph says:

      Try Forbes. They have begun to demonize the Chinese rescue effort, complaining that China’s Antarctic expeditions received more highlight than the American expeditions, which could no longer afford an icebreaker to supply their Antarctic base. They should have noticed that they should consider themselves lucky that the Xuelong 2 was just passing by, not trying to be busybody or suck up. They should be grateful that the Xuelong 2 was willing to answer their plea for help at all. The ‘excessive’ coverage that Forbes is complaining about, is most probably an attempt by Australian to suck up to China to return to China’s good grace. The Australian after all do not even try to potray Sun Yang in the negative after the Chinese swimmer overturns his swimming ban over racist former Italian foreign minister serving as the tribunal judge. It is very contrast since the Australian was the one instrumental in Sun Yang’s dodgy ban in the first place to support their own wimpy loser swimmer Mark Horton.


      • Simon says:

        China could have sent a helicopter in and rescue the Australian doctor but there was red tape from the Australian side that prevented the Chinese from entering Australian claim territory in Antarctica so instead let China to ferry in a team of Australians to nearby so they can build the necessary infrastructure to let American plane to enter Australian claim territory to air lift people out. So instead of hours it would have taken the Chinese to make a direct rescue it took 5 days just because it prefer to avoid the Chinese entering Australian territory. If the doctor died or sufferd long term sickness because of the 5 days delay the problem lay with Australian prejudice.


        • komonsense says:

          They should have let them keep “their” airspace and sailed away.
          They should also send them the bill for the rescue.
          What are the chances that this rescued white Aussie will tell the truth about what happened?


  3. Joseph says:

    Surely the Chinese people think of the so called ‘developed’ countries aka the West negatively. What do they expect? They’ve been thinking of the Chinese people negatively, and very loudly. Of course with the exception of the token and suck up Chinese in the West, since there are growing anger of how the Chinese people in the West have been increasingly marginalized.
    But obviously, since China unceremoniously whips Australia with their tariffs and import cut offs, suddenly ‘What Do Chinese People Think of Developed Countries’ matters. Whipping Australia is certainly a good and wise step. Since Australia is whipped, the negativity about China has decreased significantly. Australia is also not disappointing. As a loudmouth people, the Australian squealed so loudly like hyena that they were heard in all corners of the world. Everyone hear and learn about how Australia is whipped, even the Indian. It is a perfect and effective propaganda without cost, well except costing the Australian immensely. Now the world knows what China can do, and will do. Take that as negativity. Suddenly what the Western people think about the Chinese does not really matter as what the Chinese people think about the ‘developed’ countries. Their trade with China depends on it. So in this case, the Pew Research Center should adjust their survey accordingly, and truthfully. The negativity to the Chinese in the West is only rising because the propaganda organizations like Pew Research Center encouraging and promoting it. But they can do the right thing by encouraging and promoting the positivity toward Chinese instead. It is in their best interest. China could easily turn these ‘developed’ countries into, post-developed countries. They should look at Australia as example of what could be. Instead of the ‘developed’ countries’ solidarity to coerce China, these ‘friends’ are actually competing to fill the gap Australia left behind like a pack of hyenas. Well that’s what the hyena packs do. Who wants to be next?


  4. Simon says:

    “Developed countries”? Certainly not developed mentally. I could’nt count Australia, it may have a few cities that looked developed but the country is largely third world.


  5. Jorge says:

    and yet Beijing believes in keeping a minimum nuclear deterrence.