According to a latest 14-country Pew Research Center survey, negative views of China have reached a historic high since over a decade ago. Japan — China’s close neighbour that had sent it warm messages such as “lands apart, skys shared” (山川异域，风月同天) this spring — ranked top of the list of those who had unfavourable views of China. 86% of Japanese respondents said that they had “somewhat unfavourable” or “very unfavourable” views of China, while Sweden and Australia followed close behind with 85% and 81% of respondents feeling the same way respectively.
All the 12 European and American economies and two Asian countries of Japan and South Korea surveyed generally have a negative view of China. Over 70% of respondents from 12 countries had a negative view of China, while the remaining two countries — Italy and Spain — reported a negative rating of over 60%.
Among these countries, Australians with a negative view of China increased by 24% since 2019, while the UK’s negative evaluation went up by 19%. Sweden, Netherlands, and Germany’s negative rating increased by 15% each, while the US’s increased by 13%. Relatively speaking, Japan’s negative rating of China only rose by 1%, which is especially commendable for a year like 2020. This goes to show that there is indeed some truth to the warming up of China-Japan relations.
“Has China done anything wrong? The Trump administration has launched a totally Cold War-like campaign to contain China.” - Hu Xijin, Global Times editor
In response to the survey, Global Times editor Hu Xijin asked on Wednesday, “Has China done anything wrong?” Full of grievance, he pointed out that China did not initiate any war and neither did it interfere in the domestic affairs of any other country. “But some Western political and public opinion elites have created various gimmicks to attack China and constantly poison the public’s understanding of China,” he said.
This is not the first time that Hu has said something to this effect. In July this year, he rhetorically asked in a Weibo post, “Has China done anything wrong? The Trump administration has launched a totally Cold War-like campaign to contain China.”
He answered his own question, saying: “All in all, the US cannot accept having its global hegemony threatened, even slightly. Therefore, it is super sensitive to any potential challenge. In the eyes of Washington, Beijing is more dangerous than any other rival… Therefore, the US wants to decouple from China and rope in its allies to contain China as it did against the Soviet Union.”
Undoubtedly, major power competition between China and the US is an important reason for the rapid deterioration of China's external environment. However, this only explains part of the reason, and applies just to the US. Apart from being influenced by the US, there are various reasons for the worsening relations between other major economies and China.
Amid China’s rise, the shifting sands of international influence, trade frictions, and disputes concerning intellectual property and national security are already intense enough. With the complexity of China’s domestic situation, differences in human rights and values that have always existed between China and the West would only become more prominent. Coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic that has exacerbated the distrust between China and foreign countries, and China’s problem-solving approach that often goes the opposite direction of alleviating conflict, the situation has finally become the way it is today.
China negatively viewed not just because of US-China fracas
For instance, the nosedive in relations between Australia and China is due to the US-Australia alliance, Australia’s pursuit of the source of the coronavirus, and China’s retaliation. But even before this, China and Australia had already seen friction caused by incidents such as the alleged infiltration of Australian government and society by agents working for China. As for the deterioration of relations with Sweden, that is directly related to the arrest and jail of writer Gui Minhai, who ran a bookstore in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay — both China and Sweden claim him as their citizen.
In Europe, the issues of Xinjiang and Hong Kong are increasingly prominent, and even European companies operating in China are under pressure at home because of education centres in Xinjiang (known as “concentration camps” in the West). Having gone through the negative past experience of autocratic oppression and communist rule, European countries are inevitably deeply suspicious of China’s governance, while China underestimates the psychological impact of human rights issues on Western society. And so, this week, Germany led 39 countries at the UN in criticising human rights in Xinjiang, and expressing “deep concern” over the changes in Hong Kong. The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) — made up of parliamentarians from eight countries — is planning to revoke Beijing’s eligibility to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
From trade to human rights, Xinjiang to Hong Kong, China is facing growing hostility. But has China done anything wrong?
And in facing tough domestic challenges, China will first consider domestic political needs, social realities, and mainstream sentiment, over international perceptions.
There is no simple answer to this question. National interests and wolf-warrior approach aside, it is reasonable for China to be concerned about Xinjiang and Hong Kong. But China’s strong tactics in handling domestic challenges clearly go beyond international expectations and have an impact on mainstream international values, and developed countries simply cannot understand. On its part, Beijing is also not too sensitive to the differences between its beliefs and that of other countries.
China’s current situation and historical experiences are very different from those of developed countries, and its approach to issues cannot be the same as the West. And in facing tough domestic challenges, China will first consider domestic political needs, social realities, and mainstream sentiment, over international perceptions. Naturally, it is imaginable and, in fact, inevitable for the international community to be anxious or uneasy about how China will apply its domestic approach to other countries once it gets strong. Besides, China’s tough stance in the South China Sea sovereignty disputes over the past decade is making some Southeast Asian countries uncomfortable.
Ideally, the world needs to embrace China’s rise, while China needs to understand what other countries are worried about.
How can this situation be changed? Say what we like, it is all about communication and building trust through action. But this is easier said than done. Ideally, the world needs to embrace China’s rise, while China needs to understand what other countries are worried about. As a rising country with a wide hinterland, domestic growth and stability will be China’s all-encompassing consideration. The gap between China and the rest of the world is not easy to close. What is needed right now is for everyone to show self-restraint and not let relations get worse. That is a more realistic expectation.
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