China’s economic influence more welcome in poorer countries, poll finds

Thailand holds most positive views of China, followed by Nigeria, Kenya and Tunisia, Pew survey shows.

China's economic influence is growing around the world [Wang Zhao/AFP]

Taipei, Taiwan – China’s economic influence is felt everywhere around the world, but whether it is viewed in a positive or negative light depends greatly on each country’s economic development, a survey of 35 countries has found.

People living in high-income countries like the United States, Canada, Australia expressed broadly unfavourable views of China overall, with a median of 70 percent of people across 18 countries reporting negative feelings, according to polling released this week by the Pew Research Center.

Those perceptions flipped in middle-income countries like Thailand, Kenya, and Bangladesh, with a median of 56 percent of respondents across 17 countries reporting favourable views, according to the Pew figures published on Tuesday.

Within the 35 countries surveyed, individual views varied widely, with the lowest approval rating reported by Sweden at 11 percent, followed by Japan (12 percent), Australia (14 percent) and the US (16 percent).

The most positive views were reported by Thailand at 80 percent, followed by Nigeria (75 percent), Kenya (73 percent), Tunisia (68 percent), and Singapore (67 percent).

A similar division was seen regarding perceptions of whether China had a positive or negative influence on the economy specifically.

A median of 57 percent of people in high-income countries viewed China’s economic influence negatively, in contrast to the median of 47 percent of people in middle-income countries who viewed its influence positively.

In the US, 76 percent of respondents reported negative views towards China’s economic influence, followed by Germany (69 percent), France (68 percent), and Canada (68 percent), with similarly negative views held across Europe, Japan, South Korea and India.

Singapore and Malaysia viewed China’s economic influence in the most positive light, with 67 percent of respondents reporting favourable views, followed by Nigeria (64 percent) and Thailand (63 percent).

Pew attributed some of the views to the effect of China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative, which has invested more than $3 trillion in other countries over the past decade.

Views of Chinese President Xi Jinping were negative on the whole, with a median of 24 percent of respondents expressing confidence in the leader and 62 percent reporting little to no confidence.

The most unfavourable views were held by Japan (87 percent), Australia (85 percent), and Sweden (82 percent).

Singapore and Thailand had the most favourable views of Xi, with 63 percent of respondents saying they had a fair or great deal of confidence in the Chinese leader, followed by Malaysia (55 percent) and Bangladesh (51 percent).

Nine middle-income countries surveyed separately about the effect of Chinese companies on their economies reported overall positive views.

A median of 72 percent agreed that Chinese companies are good for their country’s economy, with the most positive views reported in Thailand (81 percent), Kenya (80 percent), and Bangladesh (79 percent). The trio of countries also reported overall positive views about the environmental impact of Chinese companies and how they treat local workers.

India had the most negative views, with only 49 percent of respondents viewing Chinese companies as having a positive effect on their economy, followed by Ghana (55 percent) and South Africa (57 percent).

Within the Asia Pacific region, nine out of 10 countries surveyed expressed a high level of concern about China’s territorial disputes in the region.

The highest level of concern was expressed in the Philippines, which regularly clashes with Beijing over its claims in the South China Sea, with 91 percent of respondents saying they were at least somewhat worried.

The Southeast Asian nation was followed by South Korea (87 percent) and Japan (86 percent), which have similar disputes in the East China Sea, Australia (82 percent), and India (69 percent).

Source: Al Jazeera