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Sharp fall in China’s global standing as poll shows backing for Taiwan defence

Survey finds pro-China sentiment has collapsed in many nations while positive opinion of US has rebounded

By Jon Henley

October 23, 2022

Could Xi follow Putin's example and try to annex Taiwan? – video explainer

China’s reputation has deteriorated rapidly over the last four years, particularly in the west, and a large share of global opinion would back some form of international help for Taiwan if Beijing tries to take the island by force, according to a survey.

It comes as Xi Jinping warned of “dangerous storms” on the horizon as he was confirmed on Sunday as Chinese leader for a precedent-breaking third term, and as Washington warns that Beijing is accelerating plans to annex the island.

The YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project also found that while sentiment towards China was significantly more favourable in other parts of the world than it was in the west, respondents in 20 of the 25 countries surveyed prefer the US as reigning superpower.

Would you prefer China or the US to be the most powerful force in politics?

Guardian graphic. Source: YouGov. Globalism Survey 2022. Note: 104,953 adult respondents in all countries. Research dates: 25 February 2019 to 22 September 2022

The survey revealed a dramatic decline in China’s global standing since it was first run in 2019, with the percentage of respondents saying they felt China played a positive role in the world falling by as much as half in some countries.

Pro-China sentiment has collapsed over the past four years from 46% to 24% in Poland, 36% to 17% in France, 30% to 13% in Germany, 32% to 11% in Denmark, 41% to 24% in Italy, 35% to 11% in the UK and 44% to 23% in India. It has fallen from 27% to 18% in the US.

While Covid-19 partly informs this negative sentiment, with majorities of more than 80% convinced that the pandemic started in China and considerable proportions (at least 40% in many countries) suspecting it originated or was created in a laboratory, human rights abuses also appear to be an increasing focus.

In countries including France (45%, up from 39%), Germany (53%, up from 46%), Denmark (53%, up from 45%), Spain (30%, up from 21%) and Greece (29%, up from 18%), more people this year than last selected China from a list of countries as one they believed had “put hundreds of thousands of its own citizens, or more, into mass prison camps, without fair and proper legal process”.

Pro-China sentiment has collapsed over the past four years

China has a positive effect on world affairs, % agree

Guardian graphic. Source: YouGov. Globalism Survey 2022. Note: 104,953 adult respondents in all countries. Research dates: 25 February 2019 to 22 September 2022

The UN’s outgoing human rights commissioner said in a report last month that China had committed serious human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province, possibly amounting to crimes against humanity. The report found there was an acute risk of arbitrary detention and that it was “reasonable to conclude that a pattern of large-scale arbitrary detention occurred in [vocational education and training centre] facilities, at least during 2017 to 2019.”

The YouGov research, carried out between 24 August and 22 September, identified a significant bounce in positive opinion of the US, with several countries showing a V-shaped pattern whereby positive views fell from 2019 to 2020 but then climbed back up, often to reach a new high, over the past two years.

US leadership has become markedly more popular: this year, for example, 62% of respondents in Germany said they preferred the US over China as the most powerful force in world politics, against 43% in 2019, and 67% in the UK, up from 52%.

In the vast majority of countries, moreover, far more people chose the US over China as their preferred superpower, undermining Beijing’s hopes of being seen as an alternative source of global leadership – by margins of 77% to 15% in Nigeria, 69% to 9% in India, 48% to 23% in Mexico, 59% to 11% in Brazil, and 45% to 19% in Greece.

Nonetheless, said YouGov’s academic director, Joel Rogers de Waal, there was still some good news for China in the results, which showed “an obvious divide between the west and other parts of the world in general sentiment towards it”.


Majorities in nine out of 12 non-western countries in the survey had positive views of China’s role in the world, and there was evidence that Beijing’s post-pandemic reputation was improving in several countries.

In Mexico, positive views of China rose to 59% this year, from 50% in 2021. Positive opinions in Egypt and Saudi Arabia rose to 57% this year from 47% and 41% respectively in 2021, while Thailand, Kenya and Nigeria showed similar jumps.

On Taiwan, majorities in about half the countries questioned – including Britain (51%), Australia (62%) and the US (52%) – believed that “other countries should provide help to Taiwan” if China used force to annex the island.

Majorities in about half the nations questioned think other countries should provide help to Taiwan if China attacks it

Guardian graphic | Source: YouGov. Globalism Survey 2022. Note: 1,061 adult respondents in all countries. Survey dates: 24 August to 1 September 2022

Sweden (55%), Denmark (51%) and, beyond the west, India (51%), Japan (55%), Kenya (63%) and Nigeria (60%) also showed majorities, while in most other countries, including France, Germany, Spain and Poland, more people (38%, 43%, 38% and 40%) favoured providing help to Taiwan than not (22%, 27%, 22% and 15%).

Backing for a US-led alliance providing heavy weapons or troops to Taiwan was generally low, but providing intelligence or military advisers – and imposing heavy economic sanctions on China – was supported by at least 40% of respondents in 10 of the 13 western countries surveyed.

Countries such as Sweden, Poland, the UK, the US, India and the three African countries of Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa were also willing to consider “hybrid warfare” measures such as cyber-attacks and pro-Taiwanese messaging.

“In other words, public opinion reflects a combination of two sentiments,” Rogers de Waal said. “There’s a predictable aversion to the prospect of physical confrontation with China, but also considerable support for the cause of Taiwanese defence in principle.”

He said the African countries in the survey could also highlight another significant trend, with all three showing high levels of support for help for Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack, but also large majorities with a positive view of China’s role in world affairs.

“Public opinion is often not as binary as the policy debate might suggest,” Rogers de Waal said. “It may be that plenty of people are capable of having both a sympathetic view towards the defence of Taiwan, and a favourable one towards China as a powerful force within the international system – albeit not as an outright alternative to it.”


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