Thursday, October 6, 2016

Chinese Public Sees More Powerful Role in World, Names U.S. as Top Threat

Chinese Public Sees More Powerful Role in World, Names U.S. as Top Threat

Domestic challenges persist: Corruption, consumer safety, pollution
OCTOBER 5, 2016

As China’s economy has grown, so too has its role in world affairs. An increasingly assertive China has challenged the geopolitical balance of power in Asia and extended its economic reach in Africa, Latin America, Europe and elsewhere. The Chinese people recognize their country’s growing prominence: 75% say China is playing a more important role in world affairs than it did 10 years ago. Only 10% of the Chinese believe that they are a less powerful player in the global arena.
China has benefited greatly from economic globalization, and most Chinese (60%) believe their country’s involvement in the global economy is a good thing; only 23% think this is bad for China.
Such self-confidence about China’s international stature coexists with some degree of anxiety and a general tendency to look inward more than outward. A majority of Chinese (56%) want Beijing to focus on China’s problems. Just 22% voice the view that their government should help other nations. And there is widespread unease about the impact on China from the world around them. Roughly three-quarters (77%) of the public believes that their way of life needs to be protected against foreign influence, and such sentiment is up 13 percentage points since 2002. Moreover, about six-in-ten Chinese (59%) are concerned that territorial conflicts between China and neighboring countries could lead to military conflict.
The United States, another principal actor on the world stage, gets mixed reviews in China. Half give the U.S. a favorable rating, while 44% offer a negative one. But 52% think the U.S. is trying to prevent China from becoming an equal power; only 29% believe the U.S. is willing to accept China’s rise. And the Chinese public names U.S. power and influence as the top international threat facing the country. Just under half (45%) say the U.S. is a major threat – the highest percentage among the seven potential threats tested on the survey.
The preference to look inward accompanies widely shared public worries about the domestic challenges facing the country. In particular, official corruption is a major concern. President Xi Jinping has made fighting corruption a centerpiece of his time in office, leading to the arrests of many Communist Party officials. Roughly half (49%) the Chinese public says corrupt officials are a very big problem in the country, while another 34% believe they are a moderately big issue.
Inequality is also a top worry. Even though it has slowed somewhat over the past couple of years, China has enjoyed remarkable economic growth in recent decades. But there is a perception that the spoils have not been shared equally. Thirty-seven percent consider the growing gap between rich and poor a very big problem, and 40% believe it is a moderately big problem.
With its growing middle class, many Chinese are worried about issues such as consumer and environmental safety. In recent years there have been numerous high-profile scandals regarding unsafe medical and food products, and the Chinese public is taking note. The share of the public rating the safety of medicines a very big problem has risen from 9% in 2008 to 42% today. Similarly, strong concerns about food safety have grown from 12% to 40%.
Meanwhile, more than three-in-ten say water and air pollution are very big problems, and about seven-in-ten consider them at least a moderately big problem. Moreover, many Chinese are willing to make tradeoffs to address environmental challenges. Half of those polled believe China should reduce air pollution even if it means slower economic growth, while just 24% think air pollution is the necessary price of a growing economy.
Still, many Chinese expect to see improvements on the country’s major challenges. This is especially true of corruption – 64% expect progress to be made on corruption in the next five years. More than four-in-ten believe there will be progress on food safety and air pollution.
And the Chinese public remains upbeat about the country’s economy. Almost nine-in-ten think the economy is in good shape and 76% expect it to improve over the next 12 months. They are slightly less optimistic about their personal economic fortunes, though still largely positive: 63% say their personal economic situation is good and 70% believe it will improve over the next year.
These are among the key findings from a Pew Research Center survey in China, conducted among 3,154 respondents from April 6 to May 8, 2016.

Chinese, American, European and Indian views of their role in the world

The Chinese (75%) are far more likely than Europeans (23%) orAmericans (21%) to believe that their nation plays a more important role on the world stage today than it did a decade ago. Notably, Indians (68%) are similarly confident when it comes to seeing their country as more influential in global affairs, compared with a decade ago.
The Chinese (60%) resemble the Europeans (56%) in their embrace of global economic engagement, and are more upbeat about their involvement in the world economy than either Indians (52%) or Americans (44%).
When it comes to dealing with developing nations, Chinese views are generally more favorable than those in the U.S. A majority (55%) of Chinese support importing more goods from developing countries. This compares with a median of 64% of Europeans and 52% of Americans. Two-thirds of Chinese (67%) favor increasing Chinese companies’ investment in developing nations. Roughly three-quarters of Europeans (76%) back their firms investing more in Africa, Asia and Latin America, while only about half of Americans (52%) support such business activities. And about six-in-ten (62%) Chinese support increasing China’s foreign aid to developing nations. This share in favor of increasing foreign assistance is higher than the 53% of Europeans and only 48% of Americans who hold the same view.
China is one of the world’s leading military powers, but the Chinese people are not any more eager than Americans or Europeans to believe that the use of overwhelming force is the best anti-terror strategy. Just 44% of Chinese say this, comparable to the views of both Americans (47%) and Europeans (41%). Indians differ: 62% back employing overwhelming military force as the best way to defeat terrorism.
The Chinese are, however, notably more inward-looking than either the Americans or the Europeans. Just 22% of Chinese say their country should help other nations deal with their problems. This is comparable to the Indian view (23%), but far less internationalist than the opinion of either Americans (37%) or Europeans (40%).

1. Chinese views on the economy and domestic challenges

In recent years, Pew Research Center surveys in China have consistently found public satisfaction with the country’s economic performance and optimism about the economic future. But they have also highlighted the challenges facing a changing China. In particular, political corruption tops the list of concerns: 49% say corrupt officials are a very big problem, up 5 percentage points from 2015. Another 34% say political corruption is a moderately big problem.
The safety of medicine is also emerging as a major public concern. Forty-two percent believe this is a very big problem, up from 28% last year and only 9% in 2008, when the question was first asked. Four-in-ten also identify food safety as a very big problem.
There is a perception among many that the benefits of China’s extraordinary economic growth over the past couple of decades have not been shared fairly, and 37% name the growing gap between rich and poor as a major challenge.
Another downside associated with China’s growth has been environmental damage. Nearly four-in-ten (37%) consider water pollution a very big problem, and a similar share of the public says this about air pollution. Air quality in many of China’s major cities has been a high-profile issue over the past several years in China and around the world, and it is clear that the Chinese public is willing to make sacrifices to address this challenge. Half believe that their country should reduce air pollution even if it means slower economic growth. Just 24% say air pollution is the price they have to pay for continued economic growth.
At least three-in-ten also rate rising prices, crime, the quality of manufactured goods, health care, education and unemployment as very big problems. There are fewer worries about corrupt businesspeople or conditions for workers.
The highly educated express stronger concerns about air pollution, food safety and the safety of medicines. Those with higher incomes are also concerned about food safety, as well as corrupt officials.

Many expect progress on major challenges

When asked whether a series of problems will get better, get worse or stay the same in the next five years, the Chinese public is optimistic on balance. On corruption – which has been a key priority of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tenure thus far – most expect progress. A 64% majority believes corruption will lessen over the next five years; only 19% think it will get worse. Nearly half (47%) believe food safety will improve, while a plurality feels this way about air pollution. By a 41%-34% margin, people also tend to think that water pollution will improve. But the public is more divided about inequality: 40% think the gap between rich and poor will get better, while 37% expect it to grow worse.

A positive economic outlook

China’s economic growth rate may be slowing, but views about the economy are still widely positive. Nearly nine-in-ten describe the country’s economic situation as very (33%) or somewhat (54%) good. And most see continued progress in the coming year: 22% say the economy will improve a lot over the next 12 months, while 54% think it will improve a little.
The public is also optimistic about the long-term economic future. Roughly eight-in-ten (82%) think that when children in the country today grow up they will be financially better off than their parents. As previous global surveys have illustrated, the Chinese public tends to be more optimistic than others around the world when it comes to the financial prospects for the next generation. In particular, their positive outlook stands in stark contrast to the pessimism found in the United States and much of Europe.
Most Chinese are also upbeat about their personal economic situations. Nearly three-in-four say their family is better off financially than it was five years ago. Only 8% say they are worse off, while 18% think they are about the same. A 63% majority rate their personal economic situation as good, although this is down 9 percentage points from 2015. Seven-in-ten expect their personal economic situation to improve in the next 12 months.

2. China and the world

The world is a dangerous place in the eyes of many people in most of the nations surveyed by Pew Research Center in 2016. Not so the Chinese. They are relatively unconcerned about a range of global threats, with one notable exception.
Fully 45% of Chinese see U.S. power and influence as posing a major threat to their country. Such concern is up from 39% in 2013. Only the Japanese (52%) express more apprehension about the international challenge posed by the United States. In contrast, a quarter of Europeans (a median of findings from 10 EU members) express unease about the threat posed by the U.S.
The second-highest international concern of the Chinese is global economic instability: 35% see it as a major threat. Chinese exports have slowed in recent years as the world economy has decelerated, which may give rise to such worry. But Chinese economic anxiety trails that in Europe (60%) and the U.S. (67%).
A similar share of Chinese, roughly a third (34%), voice the view that climate change poses a major threat to their nation. Despite the fact that China is the largest emitter annually of greenhouse gases in the world, the Chinese level of concern is the lowest in any of the countries surveyed. By comparison, 53% of both Americans and Indians say global warming is a major problem. The U.S. is the second-largest annual emitter of greenhouse gas and India is fourth.
Notably, just 15% of Chinese say the Islamic militant group in Iraq and Syria known as ISIS poses a major threat to China. This is the lowest level of concern by far when compared with Europe (76%) and the U.S. (80%). Even China’s Asian neighbors Japan (69%) and India (52%) are more worried about ISIS.

A conflicted view on global engagement

China has experienced a meteoric rise over the past decade. Its economy has nearly quadrupled in size, as has its defense spending. China’s growing presence on the global stage is well recognized by the Chinese public. Three-in-four believe their country plays a more important role in the world today compared with 10 years ago. In comparison, only 21% of Americans and 23% of Europeans believe their nation is more powerful. Just 10% of Chinese think China is less important today, compared with 46% of Americans and 37% of Europeans.
Despite their overwhelming confidence in their own country, roughly three-quarters (77%) of Chinese believe that their way of life needs to be protected against foreign influence. Such sentiment is unchanged in recent years. But it is notable that in 2002 just 64% of Chinese felt that their way of life needed sheltering. About eight-in-ten Chinese ages 50 and older (81%) see the need for such protection of the Chinese way of life, while roughly seven-in-ten Chinese ages 18 to 34 agree (72%).
Isolationist sentiment is difficult to define. But one measure is public desire that their nation should deal with its own problems and let other countries deal with their respective challenges. By this metric the Chinese are inward-looking, as are publics in most other nations surveyed. A majority of Chinese (56%) want Beijing to focus on China’s problems. Just 22% voice the view that their government should help others. This sentiment is largely unchanged from 2011, the last time this question was asked. In comparison, 37% of Americans and 40% of Europeans say their country should help others with their problems.
Exports account for around a fifth (22.4%) of China’s economy. This is roughly double what it was in 1990, but down sharply from the 35.7% share in 2006. Despite this roller coaster ride, six-in-ten Chinese believe that China’s involvement in the global economy is a good thing because it provides the country with new markets and opportunities for growth. Just 23% think it’s a bad thing because it lowers wages and costs jobs.
China is classified by the World Bank as an upper-middle-income developing country. Although largely an exporter, it now imports a great deal from other developing nations, especially commodities. While primarily a recipient of foreign investment, it is a growing investor abroad. Once the recipient of large amounts of foreign aid, China is now an aid donor.
Chinese back measures to help developing countriesA majority (55%) of Chinese support importing more goods from developing countries, while 38% oppose such purchases. This compares with a median of 64% of Europeans and 52% of Americans who back more imports from Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Two-thirds of Chinese favor increasing Chinese companies’ investment in developing nations and 24% oppose it. Roughly three-quarters of Europeans (76%) back their firms investing more in poorer countries, while about half of Americans (52%) support such efforts.
About six-in-ten Chinese (62%) support increasing China’s foreign aid to developing nations, while 32% are against such spending. This share in favor of foreign assistance is higher than the 53% of Europeans and only 48% of Americans who back foreign aid to Africa, Asia and Latin America.
In addition to the 15% who view ISIS as a major threat to their country, 32% of Chinese see the Islamic militant group as a minor threat. And the Chinese are divided over the use of force to counter such international terrorist challenges. Just 44% believe that overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism around the world. At the same time, 40% hold the view that relying too much on such force creates hatred that leads to more terrorism. Chinese views mirror those of Americans, who are split down the middle on this issue: 47% of Americans favor the use of force, 47% worry it will only spawn more terrorists. And Chinese opinion differs from that in Europe, where a median of 41% say overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism, while 53% fear it will only lead to more terrorism.

Mixed views of the U.S. and other nations

As China plays a more prominent role in the global arena, Chinese views of other players on that stage take on greater importance. In a world increasingly dominated by two superpowers, none of those relationships is more important than the rapport with the United States.

In recent years, Chinese views of America have seesawed. Today half the Chinese have a favorable opinion of the United States and 44% have an unfavorable view. In 2014, 44% had a positive assessment of the U.S.; in 2014, 50%; and in 2013, 40%.
For some time there has been a large generation gap in Chinese attitudes toward America. In 2016, 60% of those ages 18 to 34 have a favorable view, but only 35% of those ages 50 and older share that opinion. There is also an education divide: 63% of those with a secondary school education or more have a positive opinion of the U.S., compared with 40% of those with less than a secondary education.
While the Chinese overwhelmingly believe their country is a rising star in the international firmament, they are divided about the trajectory of the United States. Roughly four-in-ten (39%) think America plays a less important role in the world today compared with a decade ago, while 35% believe the U.S. plays a more important role. The Chinese are more likely than the median in Europe to say the U.S. is more important (21%) but also the Chinese are more likely to believe America is less important (32%). Notably, the Chinese are also more likely than Americans (21%) to say the U.S. is more important and less likely than Americans (46%) to have a pessimistic view of U.S. importance.
When it comes to which nation is preeminent in the global economy, the Chinese firmly believe it is the United States: 45% say America is the world’s leading economic power, just 29% cite China, 10% think it is the countries of the European Union and only 3% name Japan.
Nevertheless, the Chinese have their worries about the United States. Four-in-ten are concerned about U.S. military strength, 21% fret about American economic power and 19% are troubled by both. Just 14% say neither aspect of U.S. power concerns them.
Many Chinese are suspicious of American intentions regarding their country. About half (52%) believe the U.S. is trying to prevent China from becoming as powerful as America, compared with just 29% who say the U.S. accepts that China will eventually be an equal power.
Chinese assessments of U.S. President Barack Obama have been volatile. Although today roughly half (52%) of the Chinese express trust in Obama, only a few years ago this was not the case. Greeted by majority approval when he first took office in 2009 (62%), Chinese confidence slipped to just 31% in 2013 – with 46% expressing little or no confidence in the U.S. leader. Since 2013, Chinese attitudes toward Obama have again turned more positive than negative.
Looking forward, the Chinese are divided about Democratic candidate for U.S. president Hillary Clinton. Roughly comparable shares of the public hold a favorable view of her (37%) and an unfavorable opinion (35%), while 28% voice no view. But the Democratic contender is better known and better liked in China than she was when she last ran for president in 2008. Then 24% saw her favorably, 34% unfavorably and 43% expressed no opinion about Clinton.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is less liked and less well known. Just 22% see him favorably, 40% unfavorably and 39% have no opinion.
With regard to some of their Asian neighbors, 55% of Chinese voice a favorable opinion of South Korea. Such sentiment has decreased slightly from 2006 (63%). But only 14% voice a favorable opinion of Japan, a view that is in line with the average of available public opinion data over the past decade. And just 26% hold a favorable view of India, with whom China has had numerous territorial disputes for more than a half century. Over the last decade Chinese opinion of India has drifted downward from 33% favorable in 2006.
Chinese views of some of their neighbors may also reflect public worries about potential conflicts with those nations. Nearly six-in-ten Chinese (59%) are concerned that territorial conflicts between China and neighboring countries could lead to military conflict. Such sentiment is largely unchanged from 2014.

China is a member of the United Nations Security Council, and more than half (54%) of Chinese have favorable views of the multilateral organization, while 33% see it unfavorably. Such sentiment represents a rebound in public support for the UN. In 2013, just 39% saw the institution positively. Chinese views on the UN represent a return to levels of Chinese support last seen in 2009, when 55% backed the UN.