China’s reputation as a leading economic power is fast eroding

Only a third of countries surveyed by Pew see China as the world's top economic player

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Photo: Tingshu Wang (Reuters)

China is the world’s second largest economy by gross domestic product. With that heft comes its ability to direct economic coercion against companies and countries. Yet the Chinese economy is also sputtering, and countries are now making more concerted efforts to counter Beijing’s aggression.

Perhaps little surprise, then, that fewer people globally now call China the world’s top economic power compared to just a few years ago, according to survey results from the Pew Research Center.


Of 24 countries polled by the Washington, DC—based think tank, only eight countries said China is the world’s leading economic power. Among respondents in 14 countries, the US was most widely regarded as the global economic top dog. Two countries, France and the UK, had equal shares of respondents giving that title to the US and China. The survey polled over 30,000 people worldwide between February and May of this year.


China’s eroding reputation as the top economic power contrasts with Pew’s 2020 survey results, which showed that 11 out of 14 countries gave China the title. In 2020, only months into the global pandemic, a median of 48% of respondents across 14 countries surveyed said China was the top economic player, compared to 35% for the US. Fast forward to 2023: the median across 24 countries surveyed saying the same for China has now dropped to 33%, compared to 42% for the US. 

Most countries see the US as the top economic power

Looking at respondents from individual countries, the fall in China’s economic esteem looks particularly stark.

Where 47% of Swedes polled in 2020 said China was the top economic power, only 32% now say the same—while the share giving the US that title has jumped from 39% to 51% over the same period.

Relations between Stockholm and Beijing have grown more tense in recent years. Sweden was the only EU member state to openly propose that the bloc consider sanctioning China for its imposition of a draconian national security law on Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Stockholm has banned Chinese telecom giant Huawei from selling 5G equipment in the country. Another long-running flashpoint is Beijing’s detention and jailing of Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen and formerly Hong Kong-based bookseller.


Across Germany, the Netherlands, and Poland, the share of respondents who say China is the top economic power also dropped by double-digit percentages. Italy is the only country where a majority of respondents call China the leading economic power.

It’s difficult to conclusively draw causal links between the differences in survey results across years and changing diplomatic and economic relations between respondent countries and China. But Pew does make one pertinent observation: “Italy switched to seeing China and not the US as the world’s leading economic power in 2020, one year after the country’s ascension into the Belt and Road Initiative.”


In the US last year, equal shares of respondents deemed America and China as leading economic powers. That is no longer the case. This year, only 38% gave China the top title, while 48% give the crown to the US.