Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Global Unease With Major World Powers

Chapter 3. Views of China and Its Increasing Influence

As with views of the United States, attitudes toward China have grown more negative in recent years in most countries where trends are available. Yet the balance of opinion regarding China is decidedly favorable in 27 of the 47 nations surveyed, while opinion is more negative than positive in just five – most notably Japan and Italy. To some extent, this reflects the widespread view that China’s growing economic power has a positive effect on respondents’ own countries, especially in the developing world. However, there is broad concern about China’s growing military power. Concerns about the implications of China’s military strength are especially deep in Europe, Japan and South Korea.

China’s increasing economic impact in Africa and Latin America is starkly visible in the eyes of those publics. China is seen as having a large and growing influence in both Africa and Latin America, and for the most part its influence is viewed positively. While the U.S. is also seen as widely influential in both regions, its influence is not as universally lauded.

Regional Patterns

China is generally viewed favorably in Asia, an opinion expressed by especially large majorities in Malaysia (83%), Pakistan (79%), Bangladesh (74%) and Indonesia (65%). Trend data in both Indonesia and Pakistan show that feelings toward China have been consistently favorable in both countries in recent years.

In South Korea, just over half (52%) feel favorably toward China overall, while 42% hold an unfavorable opinion. These positive views exist despite serious concerns about China’s growing military and economic strength. However, South Korean opinions have shifted notably compared with 2002, when favorable views of China outnumbered unfavorable views by more than two-to-one (66% vs. 31%).

Feelings toward China have also deteriorated among the publics of two other important neighbors – Japan and India. Current perceptions are decidedly negative today in Japan; two-thirds (67%) express an unfavorable view while just 29% feel favorably. This is in stark contrast to the 2002 Global Attitudes survey of Japan, when 55% gave a favorable rating to China and 42% felt unfavorably. Similarly, just two years ago Indians offered more positive than negative evaluations of China by nearly three-to-one (56% favorable, 20% unfavorable). But the share holding negative views has more than doubled to 43% today, while fewer than half (46%) offer a favorable rating.

Europeans also have become much more critical of China. Majorities today express unfavorable views in Italy (61%), the Czech Republic (58%), Germany (54%) and France (51%). Opinion is split in many other countries, and is favorable in Great Britain (49% favorable, 27% unfavorable) and Bulgaria (44% favorable, 29% unfavorable). In addition, China is viewed even more positively in Russia and Ukraine. In Ukraine, 64% have a favorable impression of China, while just 18% have a negative view. Opinion is only somewhat less positive in Russia (60% favorable, 26% unfavorable).

The trend is decidedly downward in many of the European countries that were surveyed in earlier Global Attitudes studies. Since 2005, favorable ratings for China have fallen 18 points in Spain, 16 points in Great Britain, 12 points in Germany, and 11 points in France.

In the Americas, views of China are either favorable or mixed. The country is viewed most positively in Chile (62%), Venezuela (61%), Peru (56%), and Canada (52%). In the United States, the public is split evenly with 42% favorable and 39% unfavorable. Through much of Latin America, the balance of opinion toward the U.S. and China are roughly comparable – either both are viewed favorably or both unfavorably. Two standout exceptions are Mexico – where America is viewed more favorably than China – and Argentina, where China’s image is better.

Across Africa, favorable views of China outnumber critical judgments by two-to-one or more in every country except South Africa, where opinion is divided. In both Mali and Ivory Coast more than nine-in-ten (92%) have a favorable view of China, and positive opinions also overwhelm critical judgments in Senegal and Kenya, where 81% view China favorably. Three-quarters hold a favorable view in Ghana and Nigeria, as do two-thirds of Ethiopians. Even in Uganda – where a third of the population does not know enough about China to express an opinion – twice as many have a favorable view as view China unfavorably (45% to 23%). The survey provides a trend only for Nigeria, where favorable attitudes toward China are sharply up, rising 16 percentage points in just the past year from 59% to 75%.

While African respondents also tend to view the United States favorably, there are significant gaps in a number of countries. In Mali, Senegal and Tanzania, China receives significantly higher favorability ratings than does the U.S. But in Ethiopia, Uganda and South Africa, positive sentiment toward America exceeds that toward China.

China’s Growing Military Power

Most of the publics surveyed view China’s growing military power with concern but continue to see China’s economic growth as a good thing for their own country. But in a number of countries, the impression that China’s economic growth poses a threat is on the rise.

Concerns about China’s military muscle are most broadly felt in two countries with a long and sometimes bitter historic connection: South Korea and Japan. Nearly nine-in-ten South Koreans (89%) and nearly as many Japanese (80%) view the expansion of Chinese military might as a bad thing for their country. In neighboring India as well, a clear majority (59%) expresses the same concern. But negative views are not universally held by China’s neighbors or by other countries in the region. Majorities in Pakistan (57%), Malaysia (57%), and Bangladesh (51%) say China’s stronger military is good for their country.

In the West, as well as in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, China’s military power is broadly viewed with concern. Roughly two-thirds of those interviewed in the United States (68%) and Canada (66%) say China’s growing military power is a bad thing for their countries. This view is even more widely held in France (84%) and Germany (77%), as well as by substantial majorities in Great Britain and Italy.

By wide margins, the publics surveyed in Eastern Europe also express negative views. This includes neighboring Russia, where 70% see China’s military growth as bad news. In the Middle East, countries are similarly suspicious of China’s military. Kuwait is an exception; 40% of Kuwaitis see China’s growing military power as a good thing, while just 12% view it negatively. A militarily stronger China is seen as a clear positive, however, in a number of sub-Saharan African nations.

China’s Growing Economy

In contrast to views about the Chinese military, the world’s judgment of Chinese economic growth is generally positive. Majorities in 25 of the 46 countries surveyed outside China see that country’s economic growth as a boon to their own nation, and the balance of opinion is upbeat in a number of others as well. This favorable assessment is particularly the case in many developing nations, while concerns about China’s growing economic impact are increasing in many advanced nations.

But there are prominent exceptions to this general rule. In Mexico, for example, those who see China’s economic development as a threat to their own country’s well-being outnumber those who regard it as a boon by roughly two-to-one (55% vs. 28%). This is in sharp contrast to views in other developing nations in Latin America, Africa and Asia. And while the publics of most advanced economies are at best mixed in their views, if not broadly concerned, about how China’s economic growth affects their nation, clear majorities in both Sweden (62%) and Japan (57%) say China’s growth is good news for them.

China’s investment in Africa is clearly reflected in this survey. In some countries, favorable evaluations of China’s economic growth are virtually universal; in Ivory Coast, 96% of respondents say China’s growing economy is good for their country, as do 93% in Mali and 91% in Kenya. In only one African country – South Africa – are attitudes about the impact of China’s economic growth more mixed; even here, however, 52% say the growing Chinese economy is a good thing for South Africa while 32% say it is bad.

Reactions are positive – though not as universal – in much of Latin America. The vast majority in Chile (74%) and Venezuela (70%) say China’s economic growth helps their countries, and the balance of opinion in Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina is also positive. Of the Latin American nations surveyed, only in Mexico do most see China’s economic growth as a bad thing for their own country.

Nearly all of China’s neighbors say what’s good for China’s economy is good for their own. This is particularly true in Malaysia (84%), Bangladesh (78%), Indonesia (66%) and Pakistan (63%). While the vast majority of Russians and Japanese see China’s military growth as bad for their countries, most see China’s economic growth as a benefit. In both countries, more say China’s development helps, rather than hurts, their nation by roughly two-to-one. In fact, the share of Russians who see China’s growth as a concern for their own economy has fallen from 40% in 2005 to 27% today. This is in stark contrast to a number of Western nations that increasingly see China as an economic concern for their nation.

Two of China’s neighbors stand apart in this regard. In India slightly more see a growing Chinese economy as a bad thing than a good thing for their country (48% vs. 42%). This represents a shift in opinion from two years ago, when a 53% majority of Indians saw China’s economic growth as a benefit to their nation, and just 36% a problem. In South Korea, not only is concern about China’s military growth widespread (89% bad thing), but a 60% majority also sees China’s economic growth as bad as well. Despite these concerns, a 52% majority of South Koreans have an overall favorable opinion of China.

China’s economic growth clearly troubles many in the advanced economies of the world. Concerns are particularly widespread in Western Europe, where majorities in Italy (65%), France (64%) and Germany (55%) say this development is bad for their countries. And these concerns are on the rise. In Germany, the proportion saying that Chinese economic growth hurts at home has risen from 38% in 2005 to 55% today. Similarly, Britons today are divided over whether China’s growth helps (45%) or hurts (41%). But just two years ago, more saw it as good for Britain than bad by a 56% to 31% margin.

Concerns about China’s economic impact are growing, though more modestly, in the United States and Canada. In 2005, 49% of Americans said China’s growth was good for the United States; this has fallen to 41% today. In Canada, half today say China’s growth is good for their own country; 41% say it is bad. While still upbeat on balance, this is a significantly narrower margin than in 2005 when 56% of Canadians saw China’s economic growth as good and 34% as bad.

Both U.S. and Chinese Influence Evident

China’s growing presence on the world stage is clearly evident in Africa and Latin America. Majorities in most countries in each of these regions say China exerts at least a fair amount of influence on their countries. In addition, in nearly all of these countries, more people view China’s influence positively than make the same assessment of U.S. influence.

Of the 10 sub-Saharan African countries surveyed, majorities in eight say that China and the U.S. have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of influence on the way things are going in their countries. Ethiopians, in particular, see both countries as influential; 85% say China has at least a fair amount of influence, while 88% say the same about the U.S.

In Mali, Ivory Coast and Senegal significantly more notice China’s influence than America’s. Uganda is the only African nation where a majority does not see China having at least some influence locally, while two-thirds of Ugandans (67%) view the U.S. as at least fairly influential.

A very different pattern is evident in the seven Latin American countries in the Pew study. Significantly larger proportions in all seven countries view the United States as being influential. This is particularly true in Peru, where three-quarters say the U.S. has at least a fair amount of influence on how things are going in their country, compared with 40% who say the same about China. In Argentina, the gap is approximately as large (67% U.S. vs. 36% China). These differences are smallest in Chile, where 61% say the U.S. influences the way things are going in their country, compared with 53% who say China has at least a fair amount of influence.

China’s Influence More Welcome

Across sub-Saharan Africa, China’s influence is seen as growing faster than America’s, and China is almost universally viewed as having a more beneficial impact on African countries than does the United States. This is not to say that the people of Africa see the U.S. having a harmful influence. In eight of the 10 sub-Saharan African nations surveyed, clear majorities say America’s influence in their countries is generally good. But the perception that China has a positive impact is far more widespread.

The vast majority of Ethiopians see both China and America having an effect on the way things are going in their country, and by a 61%-to-33% margin they see China’s influence as benefiting the country. But Ethiopians who say America influences their country’s well-being say that influence is more harmful than helpful by a 54%-to-34% margin. The divide is even wider in Tanzania, though far fewer Tanzanians believe these world powers have a real influence in their nation.

A more common pattern is for majorities to say both countries’ influence is beneficial, but more universally for China than for America. In Senegal, 86% say China’s role in their country helps make things better, compared with 56% who say the same about America’s role. Similarly, 91% of the Kenyans who believe China affects their nation say it is for the good, compared with 74% of Kenyans who see America’s influence there as positive.

Reactions to the influence of both China and the U.S. are far less positive in Latin American nations, though the gap between the two exists there as well. A majority of Venezuelans say China and the U.S. affect the way things are going in their country, but China’s influence is seen as good by 58% while just 36% see America’s influence as positive. Similarly, in Chile, Bolivia and Peru, China’s influence is more often seen as positive than as negative, while the reverse is true of judgments about America’s influence.

In Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, the influence of both countries is generally regarded unfavorably. In all three countries, most of those who see China affecting local conditions say that the impact is negative. And in all three, most of those who see America affecting local conditions also see the impact as a negative one.

More See China Gaining in Influence

Not only is China’s impact broadly visible throughout much of Africa and Latin America, but its influence is thought to be growing in most places as well.

In Africa, China’s influence is already about as noticeable as America’s, and is increasing at a much more perceptible pace than is America’s. While majorities in nearly every African country surveyed say both the U.S. and China increasingly influence conditions in their nations, China’s growth stands out. In Senegal, for example, 79% see China’s influence as growing, compared with 51% who say the same about America’s influence. Reactions are similar in the Ivory Coast, Mali and Ethiopia. In South Africa, where two-thirds say that both countries already influence the way things are going at least a fair amount, 61% see China’s influence continuing to grow, compared with 51% who say the same about America.

The pattern is more mixed in Latin America. In Venezuela, a 56% majority sees China’s influence growing. But when it comes to America’s influence on Venezuela, as many say U.S. sway is decreasing (33%) as increasing (28%). In Peru, the pattern is the reverse, with 57% saying U.S. influence is on the rise while just 38% say the same about Chinese influence.

In Argentina and Bolivia, relatively few see China as having much influence, and even fewer see that influence as growing. America’s influence is more broadly felt in these two nations, but again, only minorities see the U.S. becoming a more important factor than it currently is.

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