China’s public getting more negative about the world
October 16th, 2012
12:04 PM ET

China’s public getting more negative about the world

By Richard Wike, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Richard Wike is associate director of the Pew Global Attitudes Project. The views expressed are his own.

Tensions are mounting between China and its Asian neighbors, most recently over long-disputed territories in the South China and East China Seas. At the same time, the negative coverage that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received in state-run Chinese media during her trip to Beijing last month underscored ongoing differences between China and the U.S. on a host of issues. But tensions like these are not just apparent at the diplomatic level or in government propaganda. Now, as China prepares for its once-in-a-decade leadership transition, the Chinese public is increasingly hostile toward rival nations, according to polling by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. This can only complicate Beijing’s relations with its neighbors and global rivals in the years ahead.

In particular, Chinese sentiment about the U.S. has cooled over the last few years. In 2010, 68 percent of Chinese characterized their country’s relationship with the U.S. as one of cooperation, while just 8 percent said it was one of hostility. Now, only 39 percent describe ties in terms of cooperation and 26 percent say they are hostile.

The Chinese were fairly pleased with President Barack Obama’s election, but since he took office his ratings in China have fallen dramatically. Of course, the People’s Republic is not alone in this regard – Obama’s approval has declined at least somewhat since he took office in most countries regularly surveyed by Pew. However, the drop off in China has been especially steep. In 2009, 62 percent of Chinese said they had a lot or some confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs, while just 23 percent had little or no confidence. Today, the Chinese public is almost evenly split – 38 percent express confidence; 41 percent lack confidence.

These shifts have been driven at least in part by opposition to the Obama administration’s policies. In 2009, a 57 percent majority in China approved of Obama’s international policies. Today, just 27 percent approve. Obama also receives poor marks for how he has handled global economic problems. And as the U.S. “rebalances” or “pivots” toward Asia, many Chinese are apprehensive about American intentions. According to a survey earlier this year by the Committee of 100 organization, a group that encourages constructive U.S.-China relations, 52 percent of Chinese believe the U.S. is trying to prevent China from becoming a great power.

But the U.S. isn’t the only country getting negative reviews from the Chinese. The current Pew Global Attitudes survey, which is based on a disproportionately urban sample in China, finds that opinions about India have also soured. Today, 39 percent describe China’s relationship with India as one of cooperation, down from 53 percent in 2010. The Chinese are also much more skeptical about whether economic growth in India is a good thing for China – in 2010, six in ten held this view, but only 44 percent do so now.

Views about Japan are even more negative. Roughly four-in-ten (41 percent) say the relationship with Japan is one of hostility, while just 30 percent describe it in terms of cooperation. Meanwhile, the EU, Pakistan, and Iran all also receive largely negative ratings from the Chinese public. Of all the countries and institutions respondents were asked to rate, Russia gets the highest marks. Still, less than half (48 percent) view Russia favorably.

However, it is important to note that public opinion can vary considerably across different segments of Chinese society. Typically, young, urban, well-educated, and higher-income Chinese express more positive views about other nations, and this is especially true regarding attitudes toward the U.S. For instance, these groups are much more likely to embrace key elements of American soft power, such as U.S. pop culture and American ways of doing business. And among those under age 30, urban residents, people with at least some college education, and those in the higher-income category, solid majorities say they like American ideas about democracy. Thus, even though democratic nations like the U.S., India, and Japan may not always be popular in this one-party state, many Chinese are attracted to the notion of a more open society.

The recent anti-Japanese protests in China illustrate how quickly Chinese public opinion can become an issue for the country’s foreign policy. When Xi Jinping and the new Chinese leadership take power in a few weeks, they will face a number of foreign policy challenges, and they will also face the challenge of managing public sentiments in a country where many sense growing antagonism with other key players on the world stage.

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Topics: Asia • China • Japan • United States

soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. PulSe

    "China's public getting more negative about the world."

    What a coincidence. The world is 'getting ' more negative about China.

    October 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Reply
    • SA


      October 16, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      True, China's rise to global power is exposed to both criticism and admiration. Interactions and relations between states are not always without frictions, especially when realpolitik dominates foreign polices and national interests are at stake. Nevertheless in our world of interdependence, we all try to avoid making mistakes, as they could reverberate.

      October 17, 2012 at 7:36 am | Reply
    • CNN_BIAS

      Actually, it's a fact that the US is seen more negatively than any other country. Just look at who's starting the wars, meddling in other people's business etc... Only Americans are getting negative about China because of news sources like CNN.

      October 17, 2012 at 11:41 am | Reply
      • Jack 3

        Other than Iraq what wra did we start? Afghanistan was started by the Afghans letting Alqaeda oppreate from their soils to attck us.

        October 30, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  2. JC

    The majority of the Chinese public doesn't pay attention to world events they are just trying to get enough to eat. China has a huge population which the affluent and educated are only 30% of the total number. How can anyone say with conviction that any percentage of these people likes, dislikes or even cares about Obama since your not using any real rational for your measurement? Live in China like I have and stop promoting hear-say, please report the truth not your bias.

    October 16, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Reply
    • Mott

      Well put, the media takes partial fragments of information and manipulate it till their desired view is the easiest perceived by the majority of the US which is un-informed and guilty of sociocentric thinking. If people did research on the news they would see there are a lot of phalasious lies spread by US media

      October 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Reply
  3. SA

    "Chinese sentiment about the U.S. has cooled over the last few years." hmm wonder why. Maybe it has something to do with the ever-increasing China bashing or the US containment policy towards China? Maybe it's proportional to the number of military exercises at China's door steps?

    October 16, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Reply
    • Conrad Brean

      Yes. I love the way US foreign policy rhetoric likes to paint China as the awakening dragon with its talons poised for world domination. The Chinese on the other hand do not have 900 world wide military bases. They might indeed be intent on world domination – but they are doing that successfully through economics. No military empire stretch across the globe to finance, no 80 billion dollars a year on defending the homeland from people who hate them. Unlike America who seem to only produce weapons of war, the Chinese are busy with a domestic economy producing America's computers, running shoes and practically everything else.

      October 16, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Reply
      • alan

        well' the way i see it is China's rise look like a chihuahua dragon worried about USpitbull on south china sea/westPhilippine issue and other issue like east china sea.

        October 17, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • Squeezebox

      It's the jobs, stupid. Americans don't like the Chineese because they're taking jobs that used to be ours.
      The Chineese don't like the rest of the world because they are losing the jobs they took from us to places like Bangladesh. Americans don't have the money to buy China's junk anymore, so of course our relationship with them has soured.

      October 18, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Reply
      • Discover123

        You are stubid say stubid words.

        October 20, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  4. Conrad Brean

    I suppose the Chinese should be like most Americans. Ambivalent about the unlawful invasion and destruction of two countries. The killing of hundreds of thousands of children, women and men. Yes, why can't the Chinese be more optimistic and friendly like the Americans........

    October 16, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Reply
    • Henry

      Good posting Conrad and so very true, too.

      October 17, 2012 at 9:18 am | Reply
    • alan

      they just can't be friendly to other nation especially Asean countries, they think they own the whole China sea because the name china sea including east china sea. They Communist think theyre the most powerful nation in the world nowaday's. I just hope that one day they wake up and found out they Chineese communist was headed in the wrong path for occupying some of the islet belong's to other nation....

      October 17, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Reply
      • Discover123

        You better study on the history before you can say anything. cannot be assumption.

        October 20, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  5. ✠ RZ ✠

    At one point, we have to some degree minded our own business and protected our innovations and manufacturing. Does anyone remember what the "Prime Directive" was in the Star Trek shows? Does anyone know what happens when someone is given greater wealth, freedoms, independence, knowledge and power? Duh ? Give someone everything they need to take over, and they just might try (especially if you put a suicidal megalomaniac in charge). But at present, it's not quite so bad and hopefully entirely rectifiable. The response has merely changed from a more congenial "Well, let me think about it" to a straightforward "Are you nuts?!? F.U. Buddy !" Which should be a clear sign to revisit the "Prime Directive" and start making and protecting our own widgetry at home. Our Governments, through their lack of foresight,, infinite stupidity, and influence of greed have allowed the tables to be turned and there's nothing anyone can do about now, in fact it's full steam ahead, if not with China, then someone else. Chances are there's no reversing it, so, resistance is futile, prepare to be assimilated.

    October 17, 2012 at 8:40 am | Reply
    • Picard

      Like the anaolgy of the prime directive, i am also a Start Trek fan but if the people of the U.S. grew a pair, forcefully and loudly told Washington and Corporate America to cut the crap and do what it takes to make us great again even if it meant putting 5 million people of the street in D.C. protesting against the culture of the way business is done in D.C. maybe the fat cats would pause a minute and take notice. Or maybe Americans could just boycott these companies altogether and demand that widgets be made in America again.

      October 19, 2012 at 10:45 am | Reply
  6. USMC Forever

    Can anyone with half a brain truly blame the Chinese for feeling the way they do? I cannot! Just look at the sorry shape the world is in today! J apan is once again becoming aggressive, the so-called Arab Spring is becoming a miserable failure and the right-wing thugs in both Washington and London are taking over the Middle East and Central Asia! Need I say more?

    October 17, 2012 at 9:12 am | Reply
    • Discover123

      I'm aggree.

      October 20, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Reply

    There's way more bias in the Western media against China. This author is delusion if you think only China' getting misinformation. There's at least 10-20 negative/bashing China articles to 1 neutral to positive, fanning the flames of racism!!!

    October 17, 2012 at 11:40 am | Reply
  8. thumbsihave2

    The rest of the world will have a hard time overcoming the propaganda that touts the superiority of their culture and blanches the harsh realities of communism that is pushed into their heads by the government. The vast majority who do leave the country do not change their view of the outside world upon leaving ie, wherever they are whatever they do, it will still be about what is best for China.

    October 17, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Reply
  9. Jacob

    At least they are not killing their young uns in the name of deities !!!!


    A recent report by United Press trust of India (UPI) stated that during the past three years more than 2,500 young boys and girls were sacrificed to goddess Kali in India. Another of AFP's recent reports say: hundreds of young boys and virgin girls are sacrificed every month for the deity Kali. In one case Rama Sewak hacked his eight year old son to death in broad daylight in Delhi because goddess Kali had told him he would come back to life and bring him good fortune. Bloodthirsty Kali is worshipped openly the length and breadth of India. Kali's statue stands naked astride the inanimate body of the Hindu deity Shiva, tongue stuck out with blood dripping from fang-like teeth. She holds a noose, a skull-topped staff, a blood-encrusted sword and a severed head. She is also known as Durga, Devi, Shaktima, Uma and Parvathi in other manifestations. The priest of Delhi, Kali Bari, says that a child sacrificed to Kali ensures a man the birth of a son. Human sacrifices are also made to these gods or goddesses, either to appease them or to ask favours of them.

    October 17, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Reply
    • Mazal

      Greeks gave us Aphrodite...goddess of love......
      Hindus gave Kali.................goddess of death.....

      Hinduism seems like a cult.

      October 17, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Reply
  10. Pari

    It proves how ill-informed you are. This is no more 1950. Wakeup in 2012

    October 18, 2012 at 4:25 am | Reply
  11. petgofish

    It looks natural as humans to feel a bit upset when challenged in Court by two opposing parties, one armed with evidences to support and another with no evident ! Methinks most people,including Chinese should salute to Chinese Leaders who have shown their excellent Tolerance towards Diaoyu Island scenario. The wars could have started through "Hit First And talk LATER."

    October 18, 2012 at 7:42 am | Reply
  12. jj

    The Saturday Night Live sketch had it right when spoiled American millennials unhappy about their iPads are confronted with poor Chinese factory workers who make the equipment and have no sympathy for well fed well off American brats.

    October 18, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Reply
  13. inquiry

    is it my imagination, or is china fueling an arms race in asia?

    October 19, 2012 at 12:10 am | Reply
  14. Picard

    The Chinese people should be more concerned about what the rest of the world thinks of them! I never had a positive view of China and opposed their entry into the WTO because i thought as a commnuist nation and rightly so they would never play by the rules. They are notorious for their espionage, stealing technology from US and EU corporations and using it for their own purposes. This does happen every day but not on the level the Chinese have achieved. And then there is their claim on the entire South China Sea region based on "historic" records, encroaching on everyones territory ..really? Guess they forgot about international boundries.

    October 19, 2012 at 10:34 am | Reply
    • UHHH

      You're showing American ignorance, not surprising. What do you know about China's history, natta. You do realize the the US have been using communism as a bogeyman, remember socialism is a bad word to only in the US, lol. If you want to talk about thief then let's also talk about how the eight western powers stolen from China, the US's rather hypocritical about this, since Apple's suing everyone even when the patents are unreasonable!

      October 20, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Reply
      • Jack 3

        After reading your posts you certainly don't know much about America

        October 30, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • UHHH

      PS, Why should 1.2 billion people think of what one ignorant thinks of them... you CAN'T speak for the whole world, ignorant arrogant fool! It should be the other way around since it's apparent that you need to learn about countries outside of the US border, other than Canada and Mexico.

      October 20, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Reply
  15. Jack 3

    When China allows freedom and when China quits stealling our intellectual property we will feel better about China.

    October 30, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  16. China Hood

    Thanks for another fantastic article. Where else could anybody get that kind of information in such a perfect means of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am on the search for such information. China Hood

    January 31, 2013 at 5:15 am | Reply

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