WASHINGTON – A new poll shows nearly three-quarters of Americans view China negatively, a record high as new coronavirus cases spike across the U.S. and the Trump administration ramps up its attacks on Beijing.
The survey, published Thursday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, found a sharp uptick in the number of Americans who see China unfavorably. In 2018, just 47% of Americans held unfavorable views of China, but that figure has jumped 26% since then – to 73%, the highest level in the 15 years Pew has measured Americans’ attitudes toward Beijing.
“Since March alone, negative views of China have increased 7 points, and there is a widespread sense that China mishandled the initial outbreak and subsequent spread of COVID-19,” the Pew survey found.
By comparison, about 50% of Americans have a favorable view of the European Union, and that has held relatively steady over the years, said Kat Devlin, a Pew research associate.
With China, “we’re really seeing a breakout” in U.S. attitudes, she said.
Devlin said China’s standing among the U.S. public began to dip significantly in 2018 “when trade rhetoric and the trade war was kind of taking off between” the two countries and the downward spiral has continued with the coronavirus pandemic. But she could not say definitely that those two developments caused the decline.
The poll found 64% of Americans said China had done a bad job handling the pandemic, compared with 31% who said Beijing did a good job.
The novel coronavirus began in Wuhan, and Chinese officials sought to silence doctors there who raised the first alarms about the deadly outbreak. Seventy-eight percent of those surveyed said the Chinese government’s initial handling of the COVID-19 outbreak was to blame for the global spread of the pandemic.
In January and February, President Donald Trump repeatedly praised Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus, at one point tweeting that the U.S. “greatly appreciates (China’s) efforts and transparency.”
China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 24, 2020
But Trump and his advisers now say China is to blame for the pandemic, which critics say is an effort to distract from the president’s failure to take the virus seriously and mount an aggressive federal response.
The poll comes as U.S. policy toward China has become an increasingly contentious issue in the 2020 presidential campaign, with Trump and his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, accusing each other of being soft on Beijing.
Republicans are more unfavorable toward China than Democrats, with 83% of GOP respondents saying they see China negatively, compared with 68% of Democrats. But both parties have come to view China in increasingly negative terms.
While the pandemic has exacerbated U.S.-China tensions, Washington and Beijing have also sparred over several other thorny issues, from trade to alleged spying. Earlier this week, American diplomats were forced to vacate the U.S. consulate in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu. China’s government ordered the U.S. mission to shutter in retaliation for the Trump administration’s decision to close China’s consulate in Houston – alleging diplomats in that facility were engaged in spying and intellectual property theft.
A majority of Americans – 57% – view China as a competitor to the U.S., while 16% describe the country as a partner. But the Pew poll found 26% of Americans now see China as an enemy of the United States – almost double the percentage who said that in 2012 when Pew last asked the question.
President Donald Trump meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
Half of those surveyed said the U.S. should hold China responsible for the role it played in the coronavirus pandemic, while 38% said preserving strong economic ties with China should trump concerns about Beijing’s handling of the virus.
The new poll also showed Americans support a more aggressive U.S. response to China’s human rights abuses, another flashpoint in the geopolitical relationship. China recently imposed a sweeping crackdown on Hong Kong, aimed at squelching pro-democracy protesters. And Xi’s government has also engaged in mass internment, forced sterilization and abortions and other horrific treatment of a predominantly Muslim population in China’s Xinjiang region.
More than 70% of Americans surveyed by Pew said the U.S. should try to promote human rights in China even if it harms bilateral economic relations, while 23% said the U.S. should prioritize strong economic relations at the expense of confronting Beijing over its human rights abuses.
Pew conducted the telephone poll of 1,003 U.S. adults from June 16 to July 14.
More on US-China relations:
What the fight between Biden and Trump over China means for the 2020 election
‘Dangerous dynamic’: Coronavirus threatens new ‘Cold War’ between US and China
Chinese authorities take control of US Consulate in Chengdu
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Poll: Americans’ views of China sours amid coronavirus, Trump attacks