China 'Delighted to See' It Tops U.S. in Popularity in Arab Countries Poll

China has exulted in a recent poll showing the nation's favorability was roughly twice that of the United States across six Arab countries.

"I'm delighted to see the survey, which, I believe, reflects the considerable public support for China-Arab friendship," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Thursday during the first press conference to be held following week-long Lunar New Year celebrations.

The study was published last month by the Arab Barometer research network and includes data gathered from last October as part of the "Wave VI" research series. It covers Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.

"The survey results make clear that Arab publics prefer China," Princeton University's Michael Robbins, director of the Arab Barometer, said in his report accompanying the survey.

"China is viewed favorably by half or more in three countries – Algeria (60 percent), Morocco (52 percent) and Tunisia (50 percent) – while a third or more have a positive view in Lebanon (43 percent), Jordan (35 percent) and Libya (34 percent)," he writes. "By comparison, fewer than a third have a favorable view of the U.S. in all six countries, ranging from a high of 28 percent in Morocco to a low of 14 percent in Libya."

And while both Hua and Robbins took note of this trend, they did not necessarily agree on the driving factors behind it.

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A poll conducted by Arab Barometer in October 2020 shows the percentage of favorability toward China and the United States among surveyed populations in Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. Arab Barometer

Hua attributed positive views toward China in the region to a warm history, both ancient and contemporary.

"Though geographically distant, China and the Arab countries are close at heart,"
Hua said. "The ancient Silk Road bore witness to our booming trade. We've fought by each other's side for national independence and liberation. We helped and supported each other in our respective national development causes. China-Arab cooperation stands as a shining example for mutual understanding and common development between developing countries."

She also referenced the massive amount of support delivered in more recent times during the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the past year since the disease that first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan took the world by storm, Chinese officials have sent teams of medical experts, established extensive information-sharing channels and vaccination programs in a number of Arab states and elsewhere across the globe.

More broadly, Hua said the peoples of the Arab World choose China "because the Chinese side adheres to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs, mutual respect and win-win cooperation for mutual benefit."

She emphasized the familiar Chinese theme of "national sovereignty."

"We firmly believe that all countries are equal, regardless of their sizes or strengths, and we support the efforts made by the Arab states in upholding their national sovereignty and national dignity," Hua said. "We trust each other totally because we've been treating each other with nothing but sincerity and we've been sharing weal and woe along the way. Such invaluable trust does not come with a price tag."

The Trump administration consistently accused Beijing of attempting to expand its global influence to the ultimate detriment of the international community. But Arab Barometer figures show this campaign backfired, as the former U.S. leader's policies lost out to Chinese President Xi Jinping's approach by even larger margins than those of national favorability.

Biden's proposed policies at the time of the survey also vastly outperformed those of Trump in every country except for Lebanon, in which Trump lost out by a mere 1% margin, while a plurality of 42% felt both U.S. presidents were "equally bad."

When it comes to China's likability, Robbins said the figures had a lot more to do with Beijing's contemporary steps than its thousands-of-years history.

"China's a new power in the region," Robbins told Newsweek. "I think that there's a lot of hope in that it's a non-colonial power, it's one that's stepping in, and I think people are placing a lot of hopes on it. It's also an attractive development model. It's gotten close to a billion people out of poverty over the last 40 years, and given the economic challenges in the Middle East, there is a lot to like about the thinking of the Chinese model."

That being said, he emphasized that many of those surveyed in Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia did not have extensive knowledge of Xi's policies, while they could more readily recite those voiced by Trump and his predecessors.

Robbins compared it to the region's post-World War II outlook toward the U.S., which, like China today, was seen as a relatively new player onto which Arab countries projected positive views until actual engagement allowed more realistic assessments to set in.

"If you look at this, ironically, this is about the same thing you would have found about the U.S. in the 1950s," Robbins said. "This was not a popular power, this was not a well-known power in the region. There's a lot written about how the U.S. was a great hope it was non-colonial power, it could potentially come in and do great things, and I think the same was imposed on China."

He noted that Germany also outperformed the U.S. in terms of favorability in Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia, and did so against China as well in all but Lebanon. Others such as Turkey also fared well in many cases.

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A survey conducted in October 2020 by the Arab Barometer displays the difference in perception of economic threat posed by China and the United States among surveyed individuals Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia. Arab Barometer

As the U.S.-China global rivalry has intensified in recent years, Chinese officials have frequently deflected criticism about their own country's approach by citing Washington's Middle East misadventures as evidence of malign activities.

"Persistent wars in #Afghanistan, #Iraq, #Libya and #Syria indicate the #US meddling and trouble-making," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian tweeted in October, around the same time the Arab Barometer poll was conducted. "Who fueled the turmoil in West Asia and North Africa? Who created 'color revolutions' in many countries? The answer is obvious."

He then shared a separate survey conducted by the Doha-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, which showed more than 70% of those surveyed felt negatively toward U.S. policies in the Palestinian territories, Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, and more than 80% believed these policies were destabilizing.

The Arab Barometer study also found those in all six countries surveyed felt Washington's economic power was a greater threat to their respective national interests than that of Beijing.

Xi's Belt and Road Initiative, a global set of infrastructure projects that has expanded the geographic stretch of Chinese capital, currently includes all six countries surveyed by the Arab Barometer poll. It also includes the Middle East's top two rivals, Iran and Saudi Arabia. China also has extensive investments in many other parts of the region, including both Israel and the Palestinian territories.

With China's tightening ties in the Arab World has also come a willingness among regional leaders to reciprocate the "non-interference" principle touted by Chinese officials, even on issues viewed by some other countries as matters of international concern, such as allegations of human rights abuses in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and towards Taiwan.

Once again, the Chinese government emphasized respect for national "sovereignty."

"The Arab side firmly supports China in safeguarding sovereignty and territorial integrity, stays committed to the one-China principle, supports China's just position on Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and opposes interference in China's internal affairs," the Chinese Foreign Ministry readout from the latest China-Arab States Cooperation Forum held last year read.

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Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul Gheit (centre R), Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (C) and Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir (centre L) attend the 8th Ministerial Meeting of China-Arab States Cooperation Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 10, 2018. Beijing has greatly expanded its economic and political footprint in the Middle East and North Africa, a trend likely accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images