In the last issue of Dialogue, No Price to Pay cited two public opinion polls as evidence that China’s international image improved despite the country’s crackdown on dissent. In this briefing, Dui Hua looks at July’s Pew Global Attitudes poll, which indicates that, despite misgivings over the country’s military expansion, China’s ratings are up in developed nations.

The Pew Research Center released a Global Attitudes poll on July 13, 2011, compiling data from interviews of adults in 23 countries conducted from mid-March to late May. The study found that majorities or pluralities in 16 of 22 countries viewed China positively, giving the country a median favorability rating of 52 percent. China was viewed more favorably than it was in the previous year’s poll in 11 of 17 foreign countries for which data are available.

The greatest improvement in China’s image was registered in Western Europe. Although polling was underway when Beijing police caused an international outcry by detaining famed artist and activist Ai Weiwei, China’s favorability rating rose 13 percentage points over the previous year to 59 percent in Britain, 10 points to 51 percent in France, and eight points to 55 percent in Spain. In Germany—Ai Weiwei announced plans to open a studio in Berlin in late March—the favorability rating rose four points despite remaining low at 34 percent. A slim majority, or 51 percent, of Americans had favorable views of China, versus 37 percent with negative views.

Views of China and Its Growing Military Might

Source: Pew Research Center data (Click on the image to enlarge)

In developing countries, however, positive views of China declined or remained low. Perhaps reflecting unease about China’s increasing economic presence in Africa, China’s favorability dropped 15 points to 71 percent in Kenya, the only African country surveyed. In Asia, only a quarter of Indians viewed China favorably, while 40 percent were undecided.

While worries about China’s economic rise have tempered, military concerns remain. Publics in 17 of 21 countries surveyed saw China’s growing military strength as a bad thing.

The United States fared better than China, with a 60 percent median favorability rating. Chinese respondents returned the biggest drop in opinion towards the United States, in spite of the largely positive Chinese media coverage of President Hu Jintao’s American tour in January 2011.