The Wall Street Journal: Many Americans negatively view China, research shows

The Wall Street Journal

By Sha Hua

July 30, 2020

American antipathy toward China has soared to a record high amid the coronavirus pandemic, a new survey has found, with an overwhelming bipartisan majority favoring a tougher stance on China at the expense of economic ties.

The proportion of Americans holding unfavorable views of China reached 73%, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Thursday. That marks a seven-point increase compared with a previous Pew survey published in March, when the coronavirus had just started spreading across Europe and the U.S., and is the highest number since Pew began asking the question in 2005.

Almost two thirds of those surveyed said they see China as having dealt poorly with Covid-19, with 78% blaming the Chinese government’s initial handling of the outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan for the global pandemic, Pew said.

The survey, which polled 1,003 Americans from mid-June to mid-July, found that views of China’s handling of the pandemic split along party lines. Republicans were more than twice as likely as Democrats to fault Chinese response to the virus and blame the country for its global spread.

Although roughly half of the people surveyed by Pew would still prefer to build stronger ties with China, the group is losing ground to a rapidly growing group of people who want to get tougher. Three quarters, including strong majorities of both parties, agreed with the statement that Americans should prioritize human rights over economic relations in dealing with Beijing.

The authors of the survey tied that hardening attitude to recent U.S. actions to punish China for its policies in the remote northwestern region of Xinjiang, where the government has subjected local Uighur Muslims to mass surveillance and sent hundreds of thousands to internment camps.

“As the U.S. imposes sanctions on Chinese companies and officials over Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs and other minority groups—after originally resisting these actions—the American public appears poised to support a tough stance,” the authors of the survey write.

American attitudes toward China have spiraled downward since President Trump took office, with those viewing China in a positive light falling to 22% from 44% in 2017, according to Pew. China reached peak popularity in the U.S. around the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when more than half of Americans felt positive about China.

Both Mr. Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden have cast China as a global adversary in the run up to the U.S. presidential election in November, with each arguing they would be tougher than the other in dealing with Beijing. China, meanwhile, has accused the U.S. of stoking a new Cold War to find a scapegoat for its own mishandling of the pandemic at home.

At the end of Wednesday, mainland China had 84,165 officially confirmed cases and 4,634 deaths, while the U.S. counted 4.4 million infections, with a death toll nearing 151,000.

Opinions of China varied by age. Among Americans 50 years or older, 80% reported negative views of the country, an increase of 10 percentage points compared with March, according to Pew. Older Americans were also three times as likely as their younger counterparts to regard China as an enemy.

The share of younger Americans with negative views grew by only 3 percentage points to 56%.

American perceptions of business ties between the world’s two largest economies have taken an especially large hit. While Americans were split last year on that aspect of the relationship, two thirds now describe it as bad. The share of those who describe U.S. economic ties with China as good now stand at 30%, down 11 percentage points from May 2019, when a breakdown in negotiations between Beijing and Washington marked the low point in the trade war between the two national governments.

The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent contraction of the American economy has led to a decline of the American public’s economic confidence, according to Pew. Only 52% of Americans view their country as the number one economy in the world, down by 7 percentage points over the past four months, while 32% now see China in that spot.

A poll by Gallup released Monday showed approval ratings for U.S. leadership among 135 other countries registered a median score of 33%, slightly up from a low of 30% during the first year of Mr. Trump’s presidency but below the prior low of 34% under George W. Bush.

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