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Negative views of China rise sharply in advanced democracies

TAIPEI – Negative perceptions of China have increased sharply among people in several advanced democracies, especially in Australia and Britain, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center released Tuesday.

The survey comes as China is engaged in multiple trade and diplomatic disputes with its neighbors 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 unfavorable view of China. It was conducted from June 10 to Aug. 3 among 14,276 adults across the 14 countries via telephone.

In Australia, 81% said they have an unfavorable view of China, according to the survey, a rise of 24 percentage points from last year.

The rise corresponds with higher tensions in the bilateral relationship after Australia 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.

While the survey showed Australia had the sharpest increase in negative attitudes toward China, other countries also showed an upward trend: Those with an unfavorable view toward China hit 74% in Britain, a rise of 19 percentage points compared to last year; 71% in Germany, a rise of 15 points; and 73% in the U.S., a rise of 13 points.

The 14 countries surveyed were the U.S., Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the U.K., 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 income levels were equally likely as those with lower levels of income to hold the negative views. The negative views also held across education levels, as those with a postsecondary degree or more were equally likely to have unfavorable views of China as those with less education.

Further, in nine of the surveyed countries — Spain, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, the U.S., the U.K., South Korea, Sweden and Australia — negative views have reached their highest level in the 12 or more years that the center has been conducting the survey in those countries, according to Pew Research Center.

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 infringe on rights promised to the former British colony when it was handed 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 criticized 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 has 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 U.S. has 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 U.S. President Donald Trump had a worse reputation among those surveyed, with a median of 83% saying they do not trust him.

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 U.S., which has reported the world’s highest death toll from COVID-19.