Global perceptions of China have turned increasingly negative in recent months, according to a new survey released by Pew Research on Tuesday, with the majority of countries polled saying that Beijing has done a bad job of handling the coronavirus pandemic.
Trust in Chinese President Xi Jinping has also plunged over the past 12 months, with more than 77% of people surveyed in the United States saying they had no confidence in Xi to “do the right thing” in global affairs.
Non-partisan American “fact-tank” Pew Research surveyed 14,276 adults in 14 countries between June and August, primarily by telephone due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Among the countries surveyed were the US, Canada, France, Germany, Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom.
“The major finding is that unfavorable views of China are rising precipitately and this is tied to the fact that China has not done a good job handling the coronavirus,” said Laura Silver, senior researcher at Pew and co-author of the report.
The first cases of the virus were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. China has since faced criticism for its initial handling of the pandemic, with numerous Western politicians blaming the early spread of the virus on the country’s inflexible political system. However, China has since managed to contain the outbreak, with life largely returning to normal in recent months.
Of the 14 countries polled by Pew Research, every one had a majority negative view of China. In every country except for France, Japan and Italy, Beijing’s reputation was at its lowest point on record.
Pew Research began to survey global opinions of China and other major world powers in 2002 but not every country has been polled every year. Respondents in Denmark and Belgium were polled for the first time this year.
Some of the drops in favorable opinions toward China have been sharp. For example, in 2017, 64% of Australians surveyed said they felt positively toward their largest trading partner – three years later, only 14% feel the same way. Now, 81% have an unfavorable opinion of China.
There were similar results in the UK. In 2018, 49% of those surveyed said they had a favorable opinion of China, compared to just 35% with an unfavorable view. Now 74% of British citizens polled say they have a negative view of China.
Silver said that originally the researchers had intended to survey 50 countries as part of their research, “the vast majority of which would have been with face to face survey methods,” but had been forced to reduce their polling to just 14 nations in the wake of the coronavirus.
The coronavirus pandemic is likely to blame for some of the rapid fall in China’s favorability ratings, according to the survey. Across the 14 countries polled, 61% of respondents said that Beijing had handled the viral outbreak poorly.
But sentiment toward China was already souring in 2019, the survey found, before the pandemic began.
The past two years have seen a wave of negative news for the Chinese government. Criticism of Beijing’s crackdowns on protesters in Hong Kong and mass internment of Muslim-majority ethnic groups in the Xinjiang region made headlines around the world.
At the same time, an aggressive new breed of Chinese diplomats, known colloquially as “wolf warriors” for a patriotic film series of the same name, have defended Beijing from any perceived slight.
According to Pew Research, Xi was the second least trusted leader out of six alternatives offered to survey respondents in 14 countries. Xi was behind German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and even Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The only world leader who had a worse reputation than Xi was US President Donald Trump.