According to a June report from the Pew Research Center, more than 60 percent of respondents in 14 democratic countries across North America, Europe, and Asia believe that the Chinese government does not respect the personal freedoms of its people. In France, Germany, and Sweden, as many as nine out of ten people surveyed hold this view. The report comes on the heels of a Joint Statement criticizing China’s human rights record, signed by several of the countries surveyed in the poll, that was released at the meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March.
General attitudes towards China were also starkly negative—in the United States, where 80 percent of people polled think that the Chinese government does not respect the personal freedoms of its people, only 37 percent of those surveyed have a favorable opinion of China. This figure represents the lowest favorability rating since Pew began polling attitudes towards China in 2005.
Unfavorable Five-Year Trend
Negative feelings towards China have risen sharply since 2011, the year before Xi Jinping took over as chairman of China’s Communist Party. The figure below shows that in five major global powers—US, UK, France, Germany, and Japan—survey respondents with unfavorable views of China have increased since 2011.Since Xi has come to power, China’s relations with neighboring countries have likewise deteriorated—Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, for example, have all drawn closer to the US.
Percentage of Respondents with Unfavorable View of China, 2011 and 2016, by Country
These results cast doubt upon Xi’s approach to international affairs, evidenced most recently by China’s decision to refrain from any participation in the South China Sea arbitration case brought against it by the Philippines at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. Not only did the PCA reject China’s “nine-dash line” claim to rights over the South China Sea, "the ruling was unanimously in favor of the Philippines on every issue. The result is widely seen as a blow to China’s prestige, and to Xi’s leadership skills as well.
On specific issues, Pew respondents also tended to hold negative opinions of the Chinese economy. Of the ten European countries surveyed, all but one (France), now see the United States as the world’s leading economic power. In 2015, those surveyed in France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom held the opinion that China was the world’s leading economic power. Competing with China-related economic fears, increasing numbers of Americans are “most concerned” with China’s growing military might. (Economic concerns outweigh military concerns, however, though the percentage of those who are most concerned by China’s economic might is dropping.)
The Pew results were not entirely grim for China, however. A majority of people in Australia have a favorable view of China. According to a poll conducted by the Lowy Institute that was released in June, Australians now view China as their best friend in Asia, and 43 percent feel that Australia’s relationship with China is the country’s most important relationship, tied with the percentage who hold that the relationship with the United States is the country's most important relationship. Nevertheless, 86 percent of Australians surveyed in the Lowy poll stated that “China’s human rights record” exerted a negative influence on their views of the country.
Finally, in a finding that might have implications in the American presidential campaign, there is a wide disparity in American views about China based on respondents’ political affiliation and age. Republicans tend to have more negative feelings towards the country than Democrats, and young people tend to view China more favorably than older people.