Nine out of 10 Americans now see China as a threat, including almost two-thirds who see it as a major threat, according to latest polling results from the Pew Research Center.
But what exactly do Americans find threatening about China? In the survey, conducted by phone over the course of March, Pew found a list of eight issues that topped the list of what Americans perceive to be the greatest threats from China. At the top of the list was China’s impact on the global environment, with 61% of respondents saying it was a very serious problem for the US.
That China’s environmental impact registered so high might be surprising, particularly against the urgent backdrop of the novel coronavirus pandemic that was discovered in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. China’s initial missteps and coverups early in the pandemic likely meant large numbers of people infected with the virus travelled across the country and the world, spreading the disease before measures were put in place to control it.
Now, as the US approaches its presidential elections, anger at China’s mishandling of the crisis has emerged as a major talking point for Republicans, and Donald Trump’s campaign has sought to direct blame at China in order to deflect criticism of the White House’s epidemic response.
Overall, Republicans are consistently more negative toward China than Democrats; 72% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents saying they have an unfavorable view of China, compared with 62% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. The partisan divergence was smaller in 2018, at only four percentage points.
While young people are typically more favorable towards China than older Americans, this was the first year in which more than half of those surveyed aged 18-29 said they view China unfavorably.
A similar number of Americans see cyberattacks from China as a very serious threat, though the number remains unchanged from 2018, and 47% view China’s growing technological power as a very serious problem. One of the key arenas in which this threat is playing out is telecommunications. Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei remains largely shut out of the US, and the US commerce department is set to decide next month on a date to enact a full ban on doing business with the Chinese firm. A forthcoming Senate report will call for stricter oversight (paywall) of Chinese telecommunications companies operating in the US.
Meanwhile, almost one-third of respondents said that tensions between China and Hong Kong is a very serious problem. This number would likely not have been quite as high were it not for last year’s months-long protest movement, which saw intense street clashes between protesters and police playing out for much of 2019 and put the city’s resistance movement in the global spotlight. Now, as China uses the cover of the coronavirus pandemic to further crack down on Hong Kong, the authoritarian government’s grip on what was formerly held up as a bastion of civil liberties will likely only tighten, and further draw attention to the issue to people in the US and beyond.