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American views of China hit record low

Screen Shot 2020 04 21 at 6.11.42 PM

A screenshot of a Joe Biden campaign ad released last week.

A new survey by the Pew Research Group, conducted from March 3 to 29, has found historically unfavorable views of China across demographic groups in the United States. As a whole, 66% of Americans now hold an unfavorable view of China, up from 60% last year and 47% at the start of the Trump presidency.

Several important majorities are now forming:

  • Young Americans — 18 to 29 years old — now mostly hold negative views of China. Fifty-three percent of them registered unfavorable views this year, compared with 49% last year.
  • China’s policies on human rights are a “very serious” problem, according to 57% of Americans, up from 49% in 2018, the last time the question was asked. Interestingly, 53% of Americans held this view in 2015, before Trump became president and focused media attention on trade.
  • Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 will not “do the right thing” in world affairs, a strong majority of Americans now believe. While 50% of Americans said they had “no confidence” in Xi in 2018 and 2019, a full 71% of Americans responded that way this year.

Additionally, the partisan divide is less relevant than ever. From 2012 to 2018, Democrats were split on China, while Republicans mostly held negative views. Now, 62% of Democrats hold unfavorable opinions of China, compared with 72% of Republicans.

We should prepare for “tough on China” rhetoric to become more prominent in the American presidential election, from both Trump and Biden, in response to this survey. Biden has already released two ads to attempt to appear tough on China, including one, as Peter Beinart wrote in The Atlantic yesterday, which used the unfortunate phrasing “Trump rolled over for the Chinese.” SupChina’s Kaiser Kuo was quoted in The Atlantic on the dangers of this rhetoric, and his full comment is printed below:

I’m all for Biden going after Trump on his abject failure to respond with alacrity to the pandemic, and to the many bad mistakes the Trump Administration has made even since mid-March. But these ads — and especially the American Bridge ad — frame these failures in terms of Neo-Cold War jingoism and flat-out sinophobia. I get that he wants to kick back against the unfair “Beijing Biden” smear. But for Democrats to stoop to this kind of China-bashing is irresponsible and short-sighted. Playing to base xenophobia is something the GOP does better. And in this race to the bottom, Asian Americans will suffer even more terribly from racism.

—Lucas Niewenhuis

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Lucas Niewenhuis

Lucas Niewenhuis is an associate editor at SupChina who helps curate daily news and produce the company's newsletter, app, and website content. Previously, Lucas researched China-Africa relations at the Social Science Research Council and interned at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He has studied Chinese language and culture in Shanghai and Beijing, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.

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