UN Human Rights Council. Photo credit: UN
Despite some modest improvements over the past five years, international opinion of China’s human rights record remains largely negative, according to a just released poll taken by the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project. Majorities or pluralities in 18 countries out of 38 polled answered “yes” to the question “Does the Chinese government respect the personal freedoms of its people,” while majorities or pluralities in 20 countries answered no.
The poll on global attitudes towards China and other major countries including the United States was conducted from March 2 to May 1 in 39 countries covering a total of 37,653 respondents (the margin of error varies between three and five percent). Results from China are excluded on the personal freedoms question as the Chinese government objected to asking its citizens their opinions on its human rights performance. The median score of those saying the Chinese government respects the rights of its people was 36 percent. The median score among the 20 countries for which tracking data is available was 26 percent, up from 23 percent when Pew last asked this question in 2008.
Opinions of the Chinese government’s human rights record are lowest in North America, Western Europe, Australia and China’s neighbors South Korea and Japan. Among these countries more than 70 percent of respondents think the Chinese government does not respect the personal freedoms of its people. Opinions of the Chinese government’s human rights performance are highest in Africa, the Middle East (except in Egypt, Israel and Turkey), Latin America and traditional allies with large Muslim populations—Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The American people’s negative assessment of the Chinese government’s human rights performance has remained consistent for the last 15 years. In 1997 and 1999, Gallup/CNN/USA Today polls asked Americans to rate the Chinese government’s performance in respecting its citizens’ human rights. In both years, 69 percent responded “mostly bad or very bad.” In the just completed Pew poll, 71 percent of Americans held the view that the Chinese government does not respect the personal freedoms of its people.
Overall, China’s “favorability” numbers in the Pew poll—i.e. the percentage of respondents who have a favorable impression of the country—follow the downward trajectory of China’s “positive influence” numbers as recorded in the BBC/Globescan poll released earlier in May. In the latter poll, respondents in 15 of 21 countries gave lower marks to China in 2013 than they did in 2012. In the Pew poll, respondents in 12 of 19 countries for which year-by-year data is available had less favorable opinions of China in 2013 than they did in 2012. The percentage of Americans holding a favorable opinion of China in 2013—37 percent—is the lowest since the Pew poll was first taken in 2007. In general, countries with the least favorable opinions of China are the same countries that give the Chinese government the lowest marks on respecting the rights of its people.