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FRIEND NOR FOE?

The Russia-Ukraine war has improved Americans’ perception of China

US and China flags printed on paper.
Reuters/Dado Ruvic
Rivals.
  • Mary Hui
By Mary Hui

Reporter

Published

The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war is fundamentally reshaping global geopolitics, cementing some alliances while threatening to derail other relationships.

One way that’s playing out is the American public’s perception of Moscow and Beijing, according to new survey results from the US-based Pew Research Center.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, the share of Americans polled who say China is a competitor of the US has grown from 54% in January to 62% as of March. Meanwhile, the share who say China is an enemy has fallen from 35% to 25%.

 

The flip side has happened in American’s perception of Russia: the share who say Russia is an enemy increased to 70%, up from 41% in January. Meanwhile, only 24% say Russia is a competitor, a sharp drop from 49% before the war.

Pew’s survey polled 3,581 US adults from March 21 to 27.

A propaganda win for Beijing?

With no reliable public opinion surveys in China, it’s impossible to know whether the Chinese populace’s perception of the US and Russia has changed since the latter invaded Ukraine.

We do know, however, that Chinese government propaganda has been working hard to depict the US as the ultimate instigator of the Russia-Ukraine war. A series of recent official commentaries in the state-controlled People’s Daily as well as the military’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Liberation Daily, have blamed the US for causing the war and profiting from it.

Meanwhile, Beijing officials have taken a stance that some described as “pro-Russia neutrality,” trying to maximize benefits from continuing its relations with Moscow, Brussels, and Washington.

Beijing has indirectly supported Moscow by parroting Russian propaganda’s talking points and narratives. Meanwhile, China could buy more energy and agricultural products that Russia can’t sell elsewhere due to sanctions. But Chinese firms have also complied with sanctions and halted business ties with Russia. At the same time, Beijing has played up the humanitarian aid that it’s sending to Ukraine while repeating platitudes about wanting peace.

This dizzying array of maneuvers—where China has stopped short of explicitly supporting Moscow, but has so far not condemned Russia’s invasion of and atrocities in Ukraine—could well blunt any friend-foe binary that Americans may have in their assessment of China. If that’s indeed the case, Beijing will have scored a propaganda victory.

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