Opinion surveys reveal Chinese public’s dislike of U.S., American allies

Opinion surveys reveal Chinese public’s dislike of U.S., American allies


Nearly 3 in 4 people in China have negative feelings about the United States and expressed similar unfavorable views toward many U.S. allies, according to recent public opinion polls.

The feelings, however, are mutual, with survey respondents in major economies saying they also had a negative opinion about the People’s Republic of China (PRC), researchers said.

In fact, negative views of the PRC are at an all-time high in countries that include Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the U.S., due in part to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Pew Research Center.

The worldview of residents across mainland China, however, is partially shaped by the CCP’s control of information, according to researchers Adam Y. Liu, an assistant at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore; Xiaojun Li, an associate professor of political science at the University of British Columbia and nonresident scholar at the 21st Century China Centre at the University of California San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy; and Songying Fang, an associate professor of political science at Rice University in Texas. They researched Chinese citizens’ views of 14 developed countries, including the U.S., and wrote about their findings in reports published by the online news magazine The Diplomat.

Research indicates that mainland China residents thought more favorably about countries that were portrayed in a positive light in Chinese media and shown as willing to work with the PRC on CCP terms. Countries that pushed back against PRC aggression received negative marks from Chinese residents.

“In a nutshell, all news about the U.S.-China relationship has been bad,” according to Liu, Li and Fang. “Beginning with the trade war, the Huawei ban, and diplomatic rows over the Hong Kong protests, continuing with a significant escalation of animosity stemming from criticisms of each other’s handling of [the] COVID-19 pandemic and culminating in mutual closures of consulates — everything points to a rapid descent into a level of confrontation unprecedented since the two countries established formal ties in 1979.”

Liu, Li and Fang conducted two Chinese surveys: one in November 2020 before the U.S. presidential election and a second the week after U.S. President Joe Biden’s January 2021 inauguration. They reported only a slight decline in Chinese respondents’ unfavorability toward the U.S., from 77% during the first survey down to 72% in the second.

The patterns emerging from the two surveys “suggest that the underlying trends in Chinese public opinion were stable during those three months and will likely remain so in the foreseeable future,” the researchers wrote for The Diplomat in March 2021. “No single event, even a significant one such as the historic U.S. presidential election, can dramatically change the underlying sentiment.”

Chinese respondents’ unfavorability levels remained nearly unchanged in the second survey for Canada and the U.K., and dropped only slightly for Japan. Negative views about Australia rose, however, from 47% to 54%, reflecting further deterioration in the Australia-PRC relationship.

“Shortly after our first survey, Beijing slapped new tariffs or restrictions on Australian exports of beef, wine, barley, timber and other products. A Twitter-engendered spat between a Chinese diplomat and the Australian prime minister over war crimes committed by some Australian Soldiers in Afghanistan also escalated into a full-blown war of words between the two countries, with additional countries weighing in,” Liu, Li and Fang wrote. “The news and analysis of these events were widely reported, discussed, and shared on social media in China, likely contributing to worsening views on Australia.”

Public opinion in China can “embolden or constrain” the PRC’s foreign policy, and Chinese leaders know that public support strengthens regime stability and helps mobilize policy initiatives, according to Liu, Li and Fang.

Researchers contend that this makes controlling information and access to information in and out of mainland China an important tactic for the CCP as it attempts to shape the worldview of mainland residents.