Poll: Middle income Global South really likes China

By Jim Lobe* – Responsible Statecraft 

Not so much among high-earners in other parts of Asia

Middle-income countries of the Global South hold significantly more favorable views of China and its influence than those held by high-income countries of North America, Europe, and Northeast Asia, according to newly released findings of a poll of 34 countries released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.

The survey, the latest in an annual series by the Pew Global Attitudes project, found that a median of 56% of respondents in 17 middle-income nations across Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia held an overall “positive” view of China.

That contrasted sharply with a median of 24% of respondents in 18 high-income countries (including the United States) who shared that assessment. The only exception in the high-income group was Singapore, where 67% of respondents said their view of China was “positive.”

The survey also found a sharp divide in views of China’s influence on global peace and security between respondents in India, Japan and South Korea on the one hand and respondents in six smaller countries of South and Southeast Asia. Solid majorities in the latter group agreed that Beijing contributed “a great deal” or “a fair amount” to peace and security, while large majorities in the former group rated Beijing’s contribution as “not too much” or “not at all.”

The poll, which interviewed more than 44,000 respondents across 34 countries, excluding the United States, between January and May, is the latest in an annual series dating back more than two decades. In addition to Singapore, India, Japan, and South Korea, the countries surveyed in the Asia-Pacific region included Australia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

In Europe, representative samples of respondents were polled in France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Spain, and the UK. In the Americas, the poll covered Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, while in sub-Saharan Africa, it surveyed opinion in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. Respondents in Israel, Tunisia, and Turkey were also interviewed.

The latest release found that the United States enjoys more favorable views than China, both in high-income countries where a median of 53% view the U.S. as “positive” and in middle-income countries where a median of 61% of respondents said they held a “positive” view.

In Malaysia, Singapore, Tunisia and Turkey, more people held a positive view of China than the U.S., while views were roughly evenly split among respondents in Bangladesh, Greece, Nigeria, Peru, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

One key finding of the latest survey makes clear that the perception of China’s global economic influence is now well established. In 10 of the 13 countries where respondents were asked both in 2019 and in 2024 about the impact of China on their own country’s economy, a significantly larger share said China has a “great deal of impact” than said so five years ago.

As to the nature of that impact, however, a median of 47% of respondents said in middle-income countries that it was “positive,” while 29% assessed it as “negative.” In the 18 high-income countries (including the U.S.), on the other hand, a median of 28% described China’s economic influence as positive, while 57% said they viewed it as “negative.” U.S. respondents were the most negative.

Of the countries whose respondents were also asked to assess China’s economic impact on their country in 2019, Pew found that views have generally become more negative, notably in Argentina, Brazil, Israel, Japan, South Korean, and Tunisia.

Asked about their views on the conduct of Chinese companies in their countries, respondents in middle-income countries were mostly positive. A median of 7 % of respondents in nine such countries said they held generally positive views about these companies’ effect on the local economy, while a 63% median said the companies worked to protect the environment; and a 57% median said they treated local workers fairly.

At least two out of every three respondents in Thailand, Kenya, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka gave Chinese companies positive marks (“very” or “somewhat well”) in all three areas, while respondents in Nigeria, the Philippines, and South Africa were more reserved. While around half of Ghanaian and Indian respondents said the companies’ operations were generally good for the economy, they were more critical about the companies’ environmental practices and how they treated local workers.

Among the 10 Asian-Pacific countries surveyed, majorities or pluralities of respondents expressed concern about territorial disputes between China and its neighbors.

Respondents in the Philippines, where tensions with China over the Spratley Islands have, if anything, increased since the poll was completed, 91% of respondents said they were either “very” (65%) or “somewhat” (25%) concerned about Manila’s conflict with Beijing.

Nearly nine of ten respondents in South Korea and Japan also expressed concern – 57% in each country said they were “very concerned.” Four out of 10 respondents in Australia and three of four respondents in Malaysia also expressed concern – 36% in each said they were “very concerned.” Seven of ten respondents in India, which also has a territorial dispute with China in the Himalayas, expressed concern – 44% said they were “very concerned.”

By contrast, 61% of Thai respondents said they were “not concerned,” while pluralities in Singapore and Bangladesh said they were “somewhat concerned.” JUL 10, 2024


*The lawyer and journalist Jim Lobe is a Contributing Editor of Responsible Statecraft, the online magazine of the Quincy Institute.   He formerly served as chief of the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service from 1980 to 1985 and again from 1989 to 2015. Lobe have a B.A. degree with highest honours in history at Williams College and a J.D. degree from the University of California at Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law.