China’s Global Image Dips to New Lows Over Its Coronavirus Response

China’s international image has plummeted amid widespread disapproval over how it has handled the coronavirus pandemic, a new survey of 14 industrialized countries found.

Only the U.S. received worse marks on its pandemic response, according to a survey published Tuesday.

Pew Research Center, which polled 14,276 residents on four continents, found that 73% on average see China in an unfavorable light. This marks a double-digit percentage-point rise compared with last year and is China’s worst score since the survey began.

In most of the countries, antipathy has soared since last year. In both the U.K. and Australia, more than twice as many as last year now say they view China in a negative light. In other countries, events in 2020 accelerated a downward trajectory, with China’s image spiraling toward a new low in the U.S., Canada, South Korea, Sweden and the Netherlands for the second year in a row.

The U.S. approval rating, Pew found in September, had also fallen to an all-time low at 34% among the other 13 countries in the survey.

The drop in sympathy toward China, according to the authors of the report, is colored by the respondents’ assessment of the country’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Italians were twice as likely to report a negative opinion of China if they thought that the country had botched its response, while 84% of Germans who disapproved of China’s handling of the pandemic stated that their overall view of the country was unfavorable, compared with 71% of all respondents.

In general, Pew found that 61% of the people surveyed say China had mishandled the outbreak. Almost four-fifths of Japanese and South Korean participants regarded China’s response as poor, closely followed by Australians and Danes, while Italians and Spaniards were roughly split down the middle in their evaluation.

“The coronavirus pandemic has turned China as a faraway idea into a real topic in people’s lives,” says François Godement, senior adviser for Asia at the Institut Montaigne, a nonprofit think tank in Paris that proposes public-policy solutions to French agencies and businesses.

While Beijing’s suppression of Hong Kong’s democracy movement and its rounding up of Uighurs in the northwestern region of Xinjiang seemed remote, Covid-19 actually took place on the respondents’ home soil, he says.

The majority of the respondents gave higher marks to their home government and to the World Health Organization and European Union. Only the U.S. received a more negative evaluation of its pandemic response, with 85% saying that the U.S. had mishandled the outbreak.

At the end of Monday, mainland China had 85,482 officially confirmed cases and 4,634 deaths, while the U.S. counted about 7.5 million infections, with a death toll above 210,000, and the European single market together with the U.K. stood at more than 3.5 million cases and more than 190,000 deaths respectively.

The proportion of respondents who have little or no confidence in President Xi Jinping also saw sharp jumps in most countries, to an average of 78%—a record that cuts across divisions in gender, education, age and income.

Medical staff transfer a patient in Wuhan, China, in the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak there in late January. The drop in sympathy toward China is colored by respondents’ assessments of its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the authors of the new Pew report.


darley shen/Reuters

The image of China’s president is significantly worse than that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. While only 19% believe that Mr. Xi will “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” that was still better than the 16% who say that of President Trump.

While Europeans are more skeptical of the U.S. leader, Japan, South Korea and Australia tend to regard Mr. Xi more suspiciously.

Although China’s political standing and soft power have taken a hit, respect for its economic prowess is on the rise. While the economies of the surveyed countries are all expected to contract due to the pandemic, China’s gross domestic product is set to grow this year. About half or more of the respondents in Europe named China as the world’s dominant economic power. Only in Japan, South Korea and the U.S. did respondents rate the economic might of the U.S. higher than China’s.

The report’s authors wrote that while older people tend to have more unfavorable views of China than do younger people, this marked the first year in which a majority of younger Australians and Americans expressed negative views toward China.

Yoshihide Suga, who succeeded Shinzo Abe as Japan’s prime minister, will face the increasingly difficult challenge of balancing the country’s relationship with the U.S. and China as tensions between the two escalate. WSJ’s Alastair Gale explains the tough choices ahead for the Suga government. Photo: Kimimasa Mayama/Shutterstock

Almost all the countries surveyed offered overall favorable views on China when Pew first began polling these countries more than a decade ago. Opinions in most of the countries hardened in recent years.

Pew conducted the survey from early June to early August in the U.S., Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the U.K., Australia, Japan and South Korea.

Write to Sha Hua at [email protected]

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