Jul 27, 2023 - World

Half of Americans say China is greatest threat to the U.S.

Share of adults in select countries who say they have a negative view of China
Data: Pew Research; Chart: Axios Visuals

Half of U.S. adults say China is the greatest threat to the country, nearly three times the share who named Russia, according to a new Pew Research Center survey released on Thursday.

The big picture: Pew also looked at how China is seen in 24 countries, finding negative views of the superpower across much of the West are at or near historic highs, and such views are growing in some developing countries that typically receive the superpower warmly.

  • U.S.-China tensions, Beijing's initial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and aggression toward Hong Kong and Taiwan are among the key factors that have dimmed the global view of China in recent years, according to a Pew report last year.
  • In a rare public rebuke, Chinese President Xi Jinping in March denounced the Western countries led by the U.S. for allegedly "containing" China, laying bare his frustration with the obstacles that Beijing confronts on the global stage.

By the numbers: 50% of U.S. adults surveyed earlier this year named China as the biggest threat facing the country, Pew said, noting respondents were asked an open-ended question. About 17% said the same about Russia.

  • The last time Pew asked a similar question in 2019, equal shares of Americans (24%) named China and Russia as the top threat to the U.S.
  • Americans saw China as both an economic and a national security threat, while they saw Russia primarily as a security threat, according to the new survey.

Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are more likely than Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents to name China as the greatest threat to the U.S. (63% vs. 40%). A wide perception gap also lies between Americans ages 65 and older and those ages 18 to 29 (61% vs. 36%).

  • "A lot of the relationships that we have with China have changed," Laura Silver, an associate director at the Pew Research Center, told Axios, citing China's human rights records, concerns over China as a growing technological power and the deepening China-Russia partnership.

Zoom out: The accompanying Pew report examining global views of China covered some of the largest economies, including the U.S., Canada, Japan and France. It also looked at eight major middle-income countries, including India, Brazil, Mexico and Nigeria, for the first since 2019.

  • A median of 67% of adults across 24 countries expressed unfavorable views of China, while 28% had favorable opinions.
  • Some 83% of those surveyed in the U.S. expressed unfavorable views of China, only slightly up from 82% last year.
  • Most high-income countries surveyed did not see a significant jump in the percentage of people who said they viewed China unfavorably — "negative views have simply remained high in recent years," Pew noted.
  • But the percentage of such views in many of those nations is at or near historic highs. About 79% of those surveyed in Canada, 72% in France and 76% in Germany said they view China unfavorably.
  • Australia and Japan had the highest percentage of respondents (87% in both countries) who said they held negative views of China.

In middle-income countries, the views of China are less clear-cut. In India, 67% of adults viewed China unfavorably, compared to 46% in a 2019 survey. About 48% of Brazilians viewed China unfavorably, compared to 27% in 2019.

  • But in Indonesia, 25% viewed China unfavorably, down from 36% in 2019. Just 15% of Nigerians and 23% of Kenyans expressed negative views about China.
  • "Negative views of China have gone up in some middle-income countries, but on balance ... [their] views of China are more moderate, definitely less negative than in high-income places," Silver said.

Methodology:

  • For the survey covering the greatest threats to the U.S.: Pew surveyed 10,329 U.S. adults from May 30 to June 4, 2023. Everyone who took part in this survey is a member of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. Read more about the methodology.
  • For the report examining global views of China: For non-U.S. data, the report draws on nationally representative surveys of 27,285 adults conducted from Feb. 20 to May 22, 2023. In the United States, Pew surveyed 3,576 U.S. adults from March 20 to 26, 2023. Read more about the methodology.
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