Negative perceptions of China have increased sharply among people in several advanced democracies – especially Britain and Australia – according to a new survey.
The poll comes with China engaged in multiple trade and diplomatic disputes with its neighbours and other countries, driven in part by a more aggressive diplomatic approach.
The survey, conducted in 14 democratic countries with advanced economies, showed a majority of people had an unfavourable view of China. The study was conducted by the US-based Pew Research Centre from June 10 to August 3 among 14,276 adults across the 14 countries via telephone.
In Britain, those with an unfavourable view towards China hit 74%, a rise of 19 percentage points compared to last year.
In Australia, 81% of those surveyed reported an unfavourable view, a rise of 24 percentage points, while the figure rose 15 points in Germany to reach 71%, and 13 points in the US to hit 73%.
Australia’s rise corresponds with higher tensions in the bilateral relationship after Canberra led the call for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.
China responded on the trade front, suspending imports of Australian beef, putting high tariffs on barley from the country and starting an anti-dumping probe into imports of Australian wine.
The 14 countries surveyed were the US, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the UK, Australia, Japan and South Korea. The margin of error for the survey ranged from 3.1 percentage points in South Korea to 4.2 percentage points in Belgium.
In most countries surveyed, those with higher incomes were equally likely as those with lower incomes to hold negative views.
The negative views also held across education levels, as those with a post-secondary degree or more were equally likely to have unfavourable views of China as those with less education.
Further, in nine of the surveyed countries — Spain, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, the US, the UK, South Korea, Sweden and Australia — negative views reached their highest level in the 12 years that the centre has been conducting the survey in those countries, according to the Pew Research Centre.
Many democratic countries, including those surveyed, condemned China earlier this year when it pushed through a new national security law in Hong Kong that critics say infringes on rights promised to the former British colony when it reverted to Chinese rule.
One of the most important factors with regard to China’s reputation abroad has been the coronavirus.
The virus emerged late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and has since spread around the world. China has been criticised for not being fast enough in its initial response and for attempting to cover up early reports of the virus.
The survey found a majority held a negative view of how China had handled the coronavirus, with a median of 61% across the 14 countries saying China had handled the outbreak poorly. Even more respondents — 84% — said the US had handled the outbreak poorly.
Those who believed China did poorly in dealing with the pandemic were much more likely to view the country in a negative light.
Citizens in the surveyed countries also do not trust China’s leader Xi Jinping, with a median of 78% saying they do not have confidence in him to do the right thing in world affairs.
Only US President Donald Trump had a worse reputation among those surveyed, with a median of 83% saying they do not trust him.
Mr Trump has been one of the most vocal critics of China, continuing to blame Beijing for the coronavirus while trying to play down the impact the virus has had in the US, which has reported the world’s highest death toll from Covid-19.