The U.S.-based Pew Research Center in late April released polling data that demonstrate the increasing negativity Americans feel toward China.
The results, based on a survey of 3,581 U.S. adults from March 21 to 27, should come as no surprise. America's political and media elites, on a daily basis, loudly bang the drum that "China is a nation that cannot be trusted." Just think about it: If you heard the same message day after day after day, you, too, would start believing it.
According to the Pew report, the number of Americans who have unfavorable views of China increased 6 percentage points over 2021 to 82 percent, a new high.
Perhaps even more important is: Two thirds of the surveyed described China as a major threat—up 5 percentage points since 2020 and 23 points since the question was first asked in 2013.
Let's look at how the American political and media elites have built the "bad China" narrative over just the past couple of years. It will become increasingly clear why propaganda about China is working in the U.S.
Beginning in 2020, former President Donald Trump used vile rhetoric about the burgeoning COVID-19 pandemic. He had no interest in trying to make Americans understand the virus; rather, he sought only to reinforce his warped idea that China was a horrible place.
His political supporters continue to agree. According to the Pew data, 64 percent of respondents who identify as conservative Republicans and 54 percent who report being or leaning Republican say they have a "very unfavorable" opinion of China.
Next, throughout the first half of 2021, Congress discussed the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), which one national political figure after another claimed was necessary because "China posed a serious threat to America's national security." One major news agency after the other parroted the government line that "China was determined to undermine the global world order and America's place at its hierarchy." Few questions were asked about whether the USICA actually did much to make the U.S. a better, safer and more sophisticated country.
Circling back to the Pew survey, we again see evidence of hostility with people on the right. Its summary states: "While about six in 10 moderate or liberal Republicans and Democrats of all ideologies consider the issue (China's influence and power) a major threat, more than eight in 10 conservative Republicans hold this opinion. The share of Republicans saying China's power is a major threat has also increased by 8 points since 2020, while opinions among Democrats remain relatively unchanged."
China's dynamic zero-COVID-19 policy, which consistently tamped down COVID-19 cases and deaths throughout the country, was described as "draconian" by U.S. media. The conclusion seems irrational, especially recognizing there had been 1.21 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and roughly 15,000 deaths in China as of May 6, according to the World Health Organization. By comparison, over 80 million cases and close to 1 million deaths had occurred in the U.S.
If keeping people safe is "draconian," then what word might describe keeping people unsafe?
Because the survey took place in late March, the Russia-Ukraine war was at the forefront of the American thinking. When one realizes the effort being made in the U.S. to assert China is Russia's ally, it follows that 62 percent of survey respondents stated the overall China-Russia relationship posed a "very serious" problem to the U.S.
Let's remember that it is the U.S. and its allies that have escalated the military conflict by delivering billions of dollars in weapons and war material to Ukraine. All the while, the Chinese Government has maintained all parties should focus on creating realistic possibilities for peace. Nevertheless, political and media elites instead want to strengthen the anti-China narrative. So they say—with a hint of Orwellian logic—the U.S. is aiding the peace effort by focusing on war, whereas the Chinese are aiding the war effort by focusing on peace.
As long as they receive propaganda masquerading as news, Americans will continue to believe China is "draconian" at home and dangerous all over the world. We should accept that Pew's data will show no significant improvement in the years to come.
The author is an associate professor at the School of Informatics, Humanities and Social Sciences, Robert Morris University, the U.S.
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
Comments to email@example.com