As Negative Views of China Grow in U.S., Russians Are Happy with Their Neighbor

As negative views of China grow among those in the United States, Russians have overwhelmingly positive views of their neighbor, recent surveys reported.

A survey conducted jointly by the Chicago Council think tank and the Moscow-based Levada Center polling firm published Friday revealed that 74% of Russians have favorable views of China, a finding that reflects the growing geopolitical warmth between the two nations. Just 45% felt the same about the European Union, and only 39% had a favorable view of the U.S.

This data emerges amid a downward turn in the favorability of China in the U.S. A Gallup poll published earlier this month found that just one-in-five of respondents in the U.S. had a positive opinion of China. That was a drop from one-in-three just last year and an all-time low for reporting since 1979, the year Washington established relations with the People's Republic.

In the decades since, the country has established itself as a leading economic power, matched only by the U.S. Its military and diplomatic forces have also strengthened, and now challenge Washington's post-Cold War status as the world's only superpower, which it gained with the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Today, while Washington views Beijing as its main competitor, Moscow sees it as a strategic partner with which it is enjoying the strongest bilateral ties in the history of the two nations.

russia, putin, china, xi, friendship, medal
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) presents the first Friendship Medal of the People's Republic of China to Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 8, 2018. The award was said to be presented to foreigners who have who have made "outstanding contributions to China's socialist modernization drive, in promoting exchange and cooperation between China and the world, and in safeguarding world peace." GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

The Chicago Council-Levada Center poll revealed that Russians saw the benefits of closer relations with China, which have played out in unprecedented diplomatic, economic and military cooperation.

A majority of 55% of Russians say that their country's relationship with China has the ability to improve Russia's position in the world, and 57% felt that these ties would grow closer throughout the next decade. Looking back, 56% said China gets more respect today than 10 years ago, 42% said the same for Russia and only 9% said so for the U.S.

And despite widespread perceptions of their unequal relationship, 56% of Russians said Moscow's growing ties with Beijing would not increase Russia's dependence on China.

"Russian President Putin's reorientation away from the West and toward Beijing in the aftermath of the 2014 Crimea annexation seems to have been accepted, if not embraced, by the Russian public," the Chicago Council-Levada Center survey report said. "Ironically, although the Obama administration planned for a pivot to Asia in 2009, it may be the Russians, not the Americans, who have successfully pivoted eastward."

As for worsening U.S.-China ties, the Gallup report saw the COVID-19 pandemic as a contributing factor, and warned that Asian-Americans were facing collateral damage as a result.

"In a year upended by a pandemic first discovered in China, and perhaps the most widespread cyber-attack in the U.S. attributed to Russia by the U.S. intelligence community, both China and Russia have reached new low points in Americans' views," the report said.

"The findings also coincide with reports of increased hate crimes against Asian Americans across the United States," the report said, "something Biden hopes to blunt by condemning anti-Asian speech in a recent executive order and directing the federal government to avoid such language in its operations."

President Joe Biden has repeatedly condemned the rise in hate crimes directed toward Asian Americans in the country. At the same time, he has largely continued his predecessor's tough line on China, and his administration has said it had "deep concerns" over the World Health Organization's recent investigation into the origins of COVID-19 in China.

In contrast, Moscow has praised Beijing's efforts to battle the coronavirus, particularly the efforts the two countries pursued in tandem.

"Our partnership is truly excellent," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Thursday, according to the state-run Tass Russian News Agency. "Right from February, March and April last year, Russian scientists and medics were in contact with the Chinese partners. The Chinese helped us with individual protective gear, when there was a catastrophic shortage of it, the Chinese helped us with equipment and medicines."

On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian reciprocated the compliments.

"China and Russia have stood shoulder to shoulder and worked closely to combat the coronavirus," Zhao told reporters Friday. "We've been helping each other with anti-epidemic materials, sharing practical experience unreservedly, and jointly carried out research and development of vaccines and drugs, and worked hand in hand to resist all kinds of 'political viruses.'"

He praised the cooperation between the two countries.

"This reflects the high-level operation of China-Russia relations in the new era and the profound friendship between the people of the two countries," Zhao said.