August 4th 2008

World Still Wary of Modern China

This week the BBC released results of a survey conducted by GlobeScan in five countries on attitudes toward China as the Beijing Games draw near

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According to survey results, China is not generally blamed for global problems (rises in food prices, energy prices and climate change)—except in South Korea, where two-thirds agree that China is responsible for rising prices of food and energy, and three-quarters agree that China is to blame for climate change.

Where blame is attached to China, in four out of five countries surveyed (Great Britain, South Korea, India, and Brazil), the public is more likely to feel that it is to blame for climate change than for rising food and energy prices. Only in the USA is the public more likely to blame China for rising energy prices than for climate change.

GlobeScan’s Research Director, Sam Mountford says, “There's not much evidence here of a desire to blame China for the big global problems we're currently faced with like rising energy prices or food prices. And it's surprising that despite all the concern about the growth in China's carbon emissions, it's people in the other big emerging economies like Brazil or India that are more likely to blame China for climate change.”

One in three Americans feel Chinese growth has harmed their standard of living – but most have still not felt its impact. Among Americans and South Koreans, however, those who do think China’s growth has affected their standard of living are more likely to feel that it has reduced it. Respondents in India are the more positive, with four in ten saying China’s growth has improved their standard of living.

“We've seen support for globalization drop off in recent years around the world and this may be more evidence of people in the West worrying about jobs disappearing into lower-wage economies in the developing world,” states Mr. Mountford.

There was no overall consensus on whether China is a threat or an ally but many Americans and South Koreans are wary. The public in the USA, South Korea and India is inclined to perceive China as more of a threat than an ally, although substantial proportions disagree. In the UK and Brazil, the opposite is the case. About half of Americans and South Koreans think China is more of a threat than an ally while one-third in these two countries feel the opposite: that China is more of an ally than a threat. The opposite is true in the UK; almost half see China as an ally, while one-third perceive China as a threat. It is notable that only two out of ten Indians see China, the other emerging global economic giant, as an ally.

Younger people (under 35 age group) are somewhat more positive about China—more likely to see it as an ally rather than a threat. This is particularly marked in the UK. Whereas more than half of British people under 35 see China as an ally, and only 29 per cent see it as a threat, over 35s are much more divided, with 43 per cent seeing it as an ally, and 35 per cent as a threat.

The Chinese are seen as friendly and modern—but Western countries still view them as oppressed. Large majorities in the United States and Great Britain (around eight in ten in each country) think that the Chinese people are friendly, while two-thirds in both countries believe they are both modern and oppressed. In contrast, in these two countries, slightly more than half feel that Chinese people are ‘like me’ and only three out of ten think they are free.

“Despite their increasing wealth, there's still a strong perception in the West that the Chinese are oppressed, and the protests we've seen about China's human rights record ahead of the Olympics will only have increased that sense. Maybe one of the most surprising things though is that even though China as a country has been isolated from the outside world for such a long time, majorities in Britain, US and India still see the Chinese as 'friendly' and over half in the US and Britain think that the Chinese are like them,” Mr. Mountford notes.

Despite proximity and ethnic similarity, in South Korea only one-quarter agree that the Chinese are friendly and “like me.” Only in Brazil, where just one in ten feel Chinese are like them, is this figure lower.

In India and South Korea, a similar proportion of the public (about four out of ten) agree that Chinese are free and oppressed. Indeed, forty six percent of Indians agree that Chinese people are free, the highest percentage recorded in any country. However, it is notable that in the other three countries surveyed the proportion of those who feel Chinese people are oppressed double the proportion of those who think they are free.


Media Contacts

For media interviews with the participating pollsters, please contact:

Sam Mountford, Research Director
GlobeScan Incorporated, London
+44 (0)20 7253 1447  

GlobeScan Incorporated is a global public opinion and stakeholder research firm with offices in Toronto, London, and Washington. GlobeScan conducts custom research and annual tracking studies on global issues. With a research network spanning 50+ countries, GlobeScan works with global companies, multilateral agencies, national governments, and non-government organizations to deliver research-based insights for successful strategies. 

The BBC exists to enrich people’s lives with great programmes and services on television, radio and online that inform, educate and entertain. Its vision is to be the most creative, trusted organization in the world. BBC reporters and correspondents at home and abroad can be called on for expert coverage across a huge range of subject areas. With over sixty foreign bureaux, the BBC has the largest newsgathering operation in the world. BBC World Service provides international news, analysis and information in English and 32 other languages.