Pew Report, Chinese Attitudes towards the US
   2012-10-19 15:20:01      Web Editor: Wang Wei

Findings from the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project suggest that Chinese people hold an increasingly unfavorable view of America. CRI's Stuart Wiggin dissects the report to see whether this is really the case.

By Stuart Wiggin

The Pew Research Center has released findings related to its Global Attitudes Project which revealed that the perceptions of Chinese people towards the United States of America have become increasingly more negative in regards to the cooperative nature of the US-China relationship and Chinese peoples' expectations of President Barack Obama. However, despite the perceptions of Chinese respondents becoming more negative over the past two years, a more nuanced look at the findings reveals some interesting patterns which suggest that the findings should not be so surprising when compared with results from 2007 onwards.

The Global Attitudes Report, which conducts public opinion surveys around the world, sampled some 3,177 respondents throughout China's three regional-economic zones, to represent approximately 64 percent of the Chinese adult population with a disproportionately urban focus. The data collected reveals a number of Chinese attitudes regarding the economy and China's domestic political situation. These include an increasing concern regarding inflation, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, pollution, the loss of traditional culture and corruption.

At first glance, the findings related to Chinese opinions towards the US appear startling. As the report notes, "the percentage of Chinese who characterize their country's relationship with the US as one of cooperation has plummeted from 68 percent to 39 percent over the past two years." The percentage of those who view the relationship as one of hostility has similarly risen from 8 percent in 2010, to 26 percent in 2012. Indeed, these are astonishing statistical changes, but data covering the years before 2010 and for the year of 2011 is not available. Hence, a comparison is not possible with the dataset provided, making it hard to map why the changes may have occurred and whether they are cause for alarm.

For other attitudes presented within the Pew report, however, data ranging back to 2007 and earlier is available. One of the other main findings from this year's report is that the percentage of Chinese people who have a favorable view of the US has decreased from 58 percent in 2010, to 43 percent in 2012. A drop of fifteen percentage points is quite dramatic, but when one looks at the data for years previous, it is clear that the number recorded this year is still hovering around the same range recorded in 2008 (41 percent), 2009 (47 percent) and 2011 (44 percent). 2010 recorded a marked improvement in the percentage of the population that viewed the US favorably, but this year's figure does not represent a massive departure from the general level of favorability expressed since 2008. In contrast, the percentage of Chinese people who viewed America favorably in 2007 stood at a paltry 37 percent.

Likewise, for those who view America unfavorably, the figure has leapt up from 37 percent in 2010 to 48 percent this year, suggesting that many Chinese people are becoming more negative towards America. However, 48 percent was the same percentage of people who viewed the US unfavorably in 2008, and is two percentage points higher than that of 2009 and 2011, suggesting a similarly continuous set of results over the past few years aside from that of 2010. Once again, the figures from 2007 tell an entirely different story, with a sizeable 57 percent of Chinese people holding an unfavorable opinion of the US; putting the 2012 figures in a slightly different context. Since 2007, therefore, Chinese people have held a more favorable opinion overall towards the US, which seemingly peaked in 2010 and returned to normal levels thereafter.

The report does reveal quite clearly a declining lack of confidence among Chinese people in President Obama to do the right thing regarding world affairs. From 2009, the percentage of those who are not confident in his ability to do the right thing has steadily increased, year-on-year from 23 percent to 41 percent. Similarly, those who felt confident that he will do the right thing has fallen year-on-year, from 62 percent in 2009 to 38 percent this year. This, if anything, is the most telling statistic from the report as this view looks set to continue should Obama maintain his position in the White House.

The research also points out that Chinese people generally hold positive views towards aspects of US soft power, most notably in the areas of scientific and technological achievements. Elsewhere, 43 percent of respondents like the US style of business while 52 percent favor America's ideas on governance. As the report notes, "Across these various measures of US soft power, there is one constant: richer, younger, more educated, and urban Chinese all express a more positive view of these aspects of America's image. And this also holds true for overall ratings of the US."

The age factor is telling, as 51 percent of 18-29 year olds hold favorable views of the US compared to only 40 percent of 30-49 year olds and 38 percent of those over 50. Meanwhile, a sizeable 59 percent of 18-29 year olds like American ideas about democracy, compared to 55 percent of 30-49 year olds and 40 percent of over 50s. In regards to the views on American governance, the fact that younger Chinese people favor such ideas and methods may be an important idea for the Chinese government to bear in mind over the course of the next several decades.

Ultimately, news reports stating that Chinese opinions towards America are on the decrease are true in the strictest sense of the term. However, this year's results are not vastly different from other years since 2007, aside from the peak in favorable opinions towards the US in 2010. Furthermore, this year's results are still nowhere near the levels recorded in 2007, and are in fact still more positive than the results gained in that year, when only 37 percent of Chinese people viewed the US favorably, and 57 percent viewed the country unfavorably. If anything, one of the main things to draw from this report is that when looking at the figures over the course of the past decade, they can be twisted to tell almost any story you so wish.


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