China may be widely known as the world’s second largest economy, but its international image as an economic powerhouse is faltering across high- and middle-income countries, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
The survey released on Thursday also found largely unfavourable opinions on China overall, with a median 67 percent of respondents expressing negative views about Beijing compared with 28 percent who shared positive ones.
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Pew surveyed more than 30,000 adults across 24 countries, including the United States, Mexico, Germany, Australia, Brazil, Israel, Nigeria, Japan and India. It found that the negative perceptions of China were largely concentrated in high-income countries, such as Australia, Sweden, South Korea and Japan.
It was also notably high in the US, where 50 percent of respondents named Beijing as the greatest threat to Washington in an open-ended question, compared with 17 percent of respondents who named Moscow.
Respondents in countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria, and Mexico expressed far more positive opinions of China, likely due to a confluence of factors – from its role in supplying 5G internet to middle-income countries to large-scale investments through projects such as its massive Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.
India was a notable outlier among middle-income countries as its relations with China have faltered over issues including a disputed 3,500km (2,175-mile) border stretching across the Himalayas.
The Pew survey found 67 percent of respondents in India held negative views of Beijing despite otherwise close economic ties between the two nations – up from 46 percent in 2019.
China is also now seen as a distant second to the US in terms of economic clout. It was named as the world’s top economic power by a median 33 percent of respondents compared with 42 percent who chose the United States.
Public perception has fallen particularly hard in Europe, notably in Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden, while American perceptions have also dimmed.
Thirty-eight percent of US respondents named China as the world’s top economic power, down from 43 percent in 2022, this year’s Pew survey found.
One bright spot was the Chinese tech industry, which was named the best in the world by 19 percent of global respondents and above average by 51 percent.
Much of the overall downturn in perceptions may be linked to China’s very public struggle to recover from COVID-19, which brought it to its knees in 2020 and again in 2022 due to strict anti-pandemic restrictions.
Attempts by Beijing to reinvigorate the economy this year have stalled during a global downturn while its pledge to support the country’s private sector has been met with scepticism by global investors.
Meanwhile, Beijing’s attempts to rebrand itself as a global peacemaker this year have also faltered even after it stepped in to broker a re-establishment of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran and offered to play a similar role in Ukraine and Palestine.
A median 71 percent of respondents told the Pew Research Center they think China “does not contribute to global peace and stability” compared with 23 percent who expressed positive views on its diplomatic activities.
Another 57 percent described China as interventionist in global affairs, contrary to the image Beijing has tried to project that it does not interfere in other countries’ domestic issues.
Respondents expressed similar doubts on the global leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping with a median 74 percent of respondents saying they had little or no confidence in his “ability to do the right thing regarding world affairs”.
Notable outliers, however, were found in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
Respondents in the three African countries also gave China’s soft power the highest marks among categories like the military, education, entertainment, technology and standard of living.
An average 69 percent of Nigerian respondents viewed China as the best in the world or above average in these categories, compared with 58 percent in Kenya and 55 percent in South Africa.
In South Korea, Israel and Germany, this number fell to 27 percent, 33 percent and 35 percent, respectively.