60 Percent of Americans View China Unfavorably While 71 Percent of Russians Are Pro, Poll Shows

China's growing political clout and economic reach over the past decade have not translated into reliably favorable opinions abroad, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center.

Across the 34 countries surveyed, a median of 41 percent of respondents held negative views on China, while 40 percent viewed the country positively.

The most concerning finding for the People's Republic may not be the world's mixed opinions, but the fact that net changes in perception skewed downward between 2018 and 2019. In both the United States and Canada, dislike for China hit record highs this year.

Pew researchers asked more than 38,000 people across the globe to share their feelings towards the country with the world's largest population and second-largest economy. Responses were gathered between May 13 and October 2.

Indonesia, Canada, and Sweden all saw both the largest change in opinion since last year and the biggest drop, with favorable opinions of China falling 17 percentage points. The U.S. and Australia both expressed 12 percentage point decreases in pro-China views. By contrast, the countries with the biggest opinion shifts in China's favor were Israel and Poland, where favorable responses increased by 11 percentage points from 2018 to 2019.

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The Chinese flag flaps in the wind on August 5, 2010 in Shanghai, China. Lucas Schifres/Getty

Despite the record-high disapproval ratings among Americans and Canadians—now at 60 and 67 percent, respectively—negative opinions were more widespread in Japan (85 percent), Sweden (70 percent) and France (62 percent).

In reporting the increase in anti-China sentiment in North America, Pew pointed to its previous reporting on increased tension surrounding the U.S.-China trade war, which began in July 2018. "Americans also increasingly see China as a threat. Around a quarter of Americans (24%) name China as the country or group that poses the greatest threat to the U.S. in the future, twice as many as said the same in 2007," Pew reported in August.

"The big take-away for a U.S. audience, of course, are the negative attitude and trendlines in the U.S. That, surely, reflects the overall souring in the US-China relationship, which has taken a bad turn on pretty much every front: the sense that a rising China poses dangers to U.S. interests that a weaker China did not, that China is not playing by the same economic rules in ways that disadvantage the U.S., and that the beliefs (always with a questionable foundation) that China would move toward liberal democracy were misplaced." Professor Jacques deLisle, the director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for the Study of Contemporary China told Newsweek.

"As is often the case, Canada resembles the U.S." deLisle continued, "with attitudes further affected by the high-profile Chinese moves against Canadian nationals in response to the detention (at U.S. request) of Huawei's Meng Wanzhou."

Russia was the most pro-China state globally with a 71 percent approval rating, following a 6 percentage point increase since 2018. Russian President Vladimir Putin lauded the tightening of connections between the two countries at the opening of a new transnational gas pipeline on December 2. "That step brings the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership in the energy sector to a whole new level," he said, according to TASS news agency. With a similarly high approval rating (70 percent) Nigeria also held China in high regard.

Regionally, "majorities or pluralities in almost all the Middle Eastern, Latin American and sub-Saharan African countries surveyed have a favorable view of China," according to Pew's analysis, while negative opinions were most pronounced in Europe. "While 51% in Greece have a positive view of China, pluralities or majorities in all other Western European countries have an unfavorable view, ranging from 53% in Spain to 70% in Sweden," Pew reported.

DeLisle drew a correlation between Western dislike and Russia's growing fondness for China. "The positive attitudes in Russia and the negative attitudes in much of Western Europe are presumably related. China and Russia are hardly allies but they are increasingly in alignment strategically and ideologically. Neither is friendly toward the liberal values that unite much of Europe. It's something of a case of the friend of my enemy is my enemy," he wrote to Newsweek.

This article has been updated to include input from Jacques deLisle, director of Center for the Study of Contemporary China at the University of Pennsylvania.