For all its efforts to shape its narrative and project a positive global image, China is viewed more negatively by countries around the world than ever before.
A new study by the Pew Research Center shows that unfavorable views of China have reached historic highs across many countries, with a steep rise in negative perceptions this year against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, Beijing’s heavy-handed crackdown on Hong Kong, and growing awareness of the government’s repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
The study surveyed over 14,000 adults between June 10 and Aug. 3 in 14 countries, nine of which recorded their most negative view of China yet since Pew started polling on the topic more than a decade ago.
Australia recorded the steepest rise in negative perceptions of China, jumping 24 percentage points from last year to reach an overwhelming 81% who say they view Beijing unfavorably. Tensions between China and Australia have soared this year, as Beijing slapped tariffs on Australian barley, restricted beef exports, and launched a dumping probe into Australian wine. All this came after Canberra pushed for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Views may well have plummeted even further since the survey was conducted—last month, in a tense diplomatic standoff, two Australian correspondents were hastily evacuated from China after state security initially barred them from leaving.
The UK recorded a big jump in the number of people with unfavorable views of China, too, leaping to three-quarters from just over 50% last year. The British government has been vocal in its support of Hong Kong’s protest movement, including offering a pathway to citizenship for 3 million Hong Kongers who are eligible a British National Overseas passport. The UK has also become a base for Hong Kong’s activists, much to the chagrin of Beijing.
And in the US, negative views of China have also climbed steadily, increasing by nearly 30 percentage points since president Donald Trump took office. As in the UK, some nearly three-quarters of Americans now view China negatively. That is slightly less than the nine in 10 Americans who see China as a threat, according another Pew study published earlier this year.
There’s one country where the Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t caused a major spike in negative sentiment towards China, however: Japan.
But that’s only because Japan has long harbored an intense dislike of its neighbor thanks to a centuries-long history of war and tension between the two. Nevertheless, Japan’s economy is also closely entwined with China’s, which means it has a balancing act to play as it hosts the four-nation Quad meeting of foreign ministers from the US, Australia, and India, who hope to use the forum to craft a united front against China.