Negative Views of China on the Rise, Impacting India and Other Emerging Economies
New Delhi: With less than a week to go before India hosts the G20 summit in New Delhi, reports have indicated that Chinese President Xi Jinping might skip the summit this time, whereas US President Joe Biden has verified that he’ll attend. And despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Xi meeting on the sidelines of BRICS in South Africa, where resolving the ongoing border disagreement was discussed, ties between New Delhi and Beijing remain tense.
India also replied explosively to a chart released by China on 28 August, which reiterated its claims to Indian territories such as Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin. The Ministry of External Affairs said such moves serve only to further “complicate the resolution of the boundary question.”
The tensions between India and China, which have particularly heightened since a standoff between soldiers of the two countries in May 2020, have had a serious impact on the perceptions of Indians towards Beijing. Indeed, an analysis of data from Washington-based think-tank Pew Research Center shows a pronounced 21 percent decline in Indians’ favorable views towards China from 2019 to 2023.
But India isn’t the only country whose views on Beijing have grown more negative. A side-by-side comparison of Pew surveys between 2019 and 2023 shows that favorable views towards Beijing have generally been declining among middle-income countries or emerging economies.
Unfavorable Opinions in Middle-Income Countries
Data for countries such as India, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, among others, was unavailable for the period between 2020 to 2022 due to “challenges of conducting face-to-face interviews during the epidemic,” according to Pew Research Centre.
But a comparison between 2019 and 2023 data showed a general worsening of opinions towards China among emerging economies. For instance, Brazil, like India, saw a pronounced 21 percent rise in unfavorable views, reaching 48 percent in 2023 compared to 27 percent in 2019. Significantly, a majority of this period—from 2019 to 2022—was under Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s conservative 38th president known to be a vehement critic of Beijing.
Like Brazil, Mexico also saw an 11 percent rise in unfavorable opinions towards Beijing, going up to 33 percent in 2023 from 22 percent in 2019. South Africa, where the BRICS summit was held before this time, saw an increase from 35 percent to 40 percent.
It’s significant to note that the period taken for comparing opinions towards China also overlaps with the COVID-19 epidemic. The contagion was first linked to an outbreak in China’s Wuhan in December 2019 and ultimately spread across the world.
On the other hand, countries like Nigeria and Kenya reported a rise in favorable opinions towards China. According to Pew surveys, Nigeria reported a 2 percent decline in unfavorable opinions towards China, decreasing to 15 percent in 2023 from 17 percent in 2019. Likewise, in Kenya, negative opinions towards Beijing were recorded at 23 percent in 2023, down from 25 percent in 2019.
Also significant was the rise in favorable opinions towards China in both countries, rising to 80 percent from 70 percent in Nigeria and to 72 percent from 58 percent in Kenya over the same period.
This change comes at a time when trade relations between China and the two African countries have been seeing a steady enhancement. Trade between Nigeria and China, for instance, touched $25.68 billion in 2021, rising 33.3 percent year on year, according to a press release from Beijing in January this year.
Both countries have also gained from China’s Belt and Road Initiative, formally known as One Belt One Road, Beijing’s global infrastructure development design that envisages Chinese institutions financing the bulk of the structure in substantially developing nations. For example, in Kenya, one of the first African countries to subscribe up for BRI in 2017, Chinese companies have invested and developed numerous structure systems such as the Standard Gauge Railway, a 480 km line that connects Mombasa, the largest harbor in East Africa, and Nairobi, the capital megacity of Kenya.
Meanwhile, negative sentiment towards China also declined in some neighboring Southeast Asian countries. In Indonesia, negative opinions declined to 25 percent in 2023 from 36 percent in 2019, while positive opinions grew to 49 percent in 2023 from 36 percent in 2019.
India’s View of China and the US
What’s significant is that although emerging economies have recorded a rise in negative opinions towards China, the surveys show it isn’t the majority opinion, which continues to be positive.
The exception to this trend is India—according to the Pew surveys, 67 percent of Indians surveyed held unfavorable views of China in 2023, up from 46 percent in 2019. This is significant, especially since it lapped two major events—the rising Sino-Indian tensions since the May 2020 standoff in Ladakh’s Galwan valley, and the COVID-19 epidemic.
Despite this, still, 8 percent of Indian respondents had “veritably favorable” views towards China in 2023 compared to 6 percent in 2019.
According to the Pew surveys, not only did India register a significant 21 percent rise in negative sentiments towards China between 2019 and 2023, but it also recorded a rise during that time, President Xi received criticism.
The surveys showed a pronounced 21 percent rise—to 57 percent in 2023 from 36 percent in 2019—in Indians having “little to no confidence” to “do the right thing” by the Chinese president. Still, it’s also intriguing to note that at the same time, confidence in Xi also rose—going to 32 percent in 2023 from 21 percent in 2019.
In discrepancy to China, Indians’ opinions toward the US and its leaders saw an enhancement. According to the survey, 64 percent of Indian respondents said they had confidence in US President Joe Biden in 2023, compared to 56 percent in 2019 for also President Donald Trump.
Also, 70 percent of Indians said they had faith in the US when it comes to contributing to maintaining global peace and stability in 2023, as compared to 33 percent for China.
Still, a significant number of Indians—68 percent—also believed that Washington was more likely to intrude in the domestic affairs of other countries than China (5 in 10 respondents or 55 percent)..