By David Hutt
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A new survey of over 3,000 mainland Chinese respondents shows that public perceptions of Russia have improved over the past three years, with Russia now being the country the Chinese public now favors the most, closely followed by Pakistan.
The survey, which was conducted by the Central European Institute of Asian Studies think tank in March after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and released on May 12, suggests the Chinese public broadly supports Moscow’s military operation, while public views about the US have significantly worsened in recent years, according to the survey’s organizers.
Of the 25 countries that Chinese respondents were asked about, Russia was the most positive and the US most negatively perceived. Almost 80% had positive feelings about Russia, whereas less than a third had a similar disposition towards the US. Four-fifths reported that their views of Russia had improved over the last three years.
“Our findings show that the Chinese public was not disturbed by the Russian moves and seemed to support Russia in the war,” Richard Turcsányi, a key researcher at Palacky University Olomouc who led the survey team, said in a statement.
Of the Chinese who said their opinions of Russia had improved, it was because they trusted Russia’s leadership. Typical responses were “trust Putin,” “Putin has guts,” and “strong leadership.” Many Chinese also said they felt “brotherly love” between Russia and China and believed that an “enemy of an enemy is our friend.”
India was the second-most negatively viewed country of the 25 surveyed, followed by Japan. Of Southeast Asian countries, 48% had unfavorable opinions of Vietnam, and more than two-fifths had negative perceptions of Indonesia and the Philippines.
After Russia and Pakistan, Singapore was ranked third-most favorably of the 25 surveyed countries. Some 56% said they felt culturally similar to the city-state, and 60% said they reckoned Singaporeans would be welcoming to Chinese visitors. The Vietnamese were perceived to be the third-least friendly to Chinese guests.
“Bilateral relationships are an important factor driving the attitudes of the Chinese toward foreign countries. Chinese domestic propaganda seems to be working,” Turcsányi stated.
The report also found that Chinese respondents’ views of foreign countries correspond closely with their perceptions of those countries’ views of China.
Almost 60% of the survey’s participants said they thought Americans had a negative view of China. By comparison, only around 10% thought Russians took a dim view of China, which might explain why the Chinese held Russia in such apparent high esteem.
Not surprisingly, the survey revealed abounding Chinese nationalism. Some 90% of respondents evaluated China as economically strong, some eight percentage points ahead of the US.
The same percentage also believed China to be militarily the strongest country globally. India and Japan were seen as the weakest, followed by the European Union.
When asked to what extent China should adopt either tough or friendly policies, almost 60% said a tough approach with regards to the US. More than 20% said, “very tough.” The majority of respondents said “protection of China’s sovereignty and security” should be Beijing’s number one foreign policy priority.
On the one hand, such negative opinions of the US don’t spill over into all areas of life. A majority (53%) viewed America as culturally attractive, while only 26% disagreed.
“The tense diplomatic relations have not significantly damaged the Chinese public’s admiration for American culture, and a majority of Chinese still considered the US culturally attractive. We are not in a full-fledged Cold War yet,” Tao Wang, research associate at Manchester China Institute and co-author of the report, said in a statement.
However, one striking indication of the gulf between China and the West was over Covid-19 vaccines. Some 55% of Chinese respondents would be unwilling to receive US-made Covid vaccines, and just under half would be reluctant to be immunized with European vaccines. However, a majority would be willing to be jabbed with a Russian-made vaccine.
“While some scientists argue that deploying Western vaccines is the key to China’s exit from the pandemic, our findings forebode that Beijing may have a long way to go,” Wang said. “The Chinese public’s skepticism about Western vaccines is rampant and can be a real challenge down the road,” he added.
This content is mirrored and was published first in the Asia Times.