Global views of China tanked to historic lows last year against a backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, its heavy-handed crackdown on Hong Kong, and rising international awareness of Beijing’s campaign of repression in Xinjiang.
Now, a new study by the US-based Pew Research Center shows that while international opinion of China remains largely negative, there is one aspect where Beijing has made significant strides in winning back some positive reviews: its pandemic response.
The study surveyed 18,850 people between Feb. 1 and May 26 across 17 countries, of which a dozen countries were surveyed both last summer and this spring. Among those 12 nations, the share of respondents who said China has done a good job in handling the coronavirus pandemic has improved dramatically, including double-digit increases in nine countries.
There may be various reasons for the upswing in global perceptions of China’s Covid-19 response. For one, the country has largely managed to eliminate the coronavirus, keeping case counts in check and quickly clamping down when clusters emerge, as when Guangzhou recently saw an uptick in cases beginning in late May. Meanwhile, China has rolled out its homegrown coronavirus vaccines, having administered over 1 billion doses as of this month, according to health officials. Beijing aims to inoculate 70% of its eligible population by year end, according to Xinhua.
Beijing may also be reaping the results of its vaccine diplomacy. It has delivered 450 million doses of Covid-19 jabs to nearly 100 countries, the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said this week.
Still, China has by no means won the battle to shape the pandemic narrative, much as it would like to. The lab leak theory—which considers the possibility of the coronavirus having originated from a lab in Wuhan—has in recent weeks gained worldwide traction. Beijing has called the theory “absurd.”
China isn’t the only country enjoying an upswing in global opinion of its pandemic handling, however. Perceptions of the US response to Covid-19 has improved even more significantly since last summer, with 11 out of 12 countries surveyed recording double-digit increases in the share of respondents who say Washington has done a good job.
However, China continues to fare much better than the US in global perceptions of their respective pandemic responses. Though the median score across the 17 surveyed countries for China’s handling of the pandemic is closely split between positive and negative assessments, a far larger share of respondents say the US handled Covid-19 poorly.