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Americans' Unfavorable Attitudes Towards China Unchanged Ten Years After Tiananmen

Americans' Unfavorable Attitudes Towards China Unchanged Ten Years After Tiananmen

Despite negative perceptions of China's internal policies, U.S. public split on issue of direct linkage of human rights to trade policy

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON NJ -- On the tenth anniversary of the Chinese military crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, American public opinion remains negative towards China. At the same time, there is sharp disagreement on whether or not China's internal human rights actions should be reflected in U.S.-China trade relations policy.

The American public's attitudes towards China have undergone an enormous amount of change over the last 30 years, but in the final analysis, the public's attitudes today are very little different from what they were 10 years ago after the Tiananmen Square events took place.

Americans' attitudes towards China were consistently unfavorable in Gallup polls conducted in 1967 and in the 1970s, reflecting the dominant Cold War ambience of that time. During the 1980s, however, as China underwent significant social and political reforms, American attitudes became progressively more positive, culminating in an extraordinary 72% of the public who indicated in a February 1989 Gallup poll that they had a favorable attitude towards the country. Then the Tiananmen Square crackdowns occurred in June, 1989, and by August of that year, favorable attitudes had fallen precipitously -- to only 34%. There has been some slight movement up and down in the intervening years, but in a recent Gallup poll, conducted in early May of this year, favorable attitudes were at 38%, almost exactly the same as 10 years ago. In short, the decade that has transpired since Tiananmen Square has witnessed very little change in the American public's majority negative attitudes towards the world's most populous country.

The current 38% favorable rating puts China at the lower end of the spectrum of countries that Gallup measures -- above Cuba and Iraq, but rated more negatively than Russia, and traditional allies such as Great Britain and Israel.

Gallup's latest survey on China was conducted in May, just before the Cox report on alleged Chinese stealing of U.S. nuclear secrets was formally released. Since many of the report's accusations have been public for a number of months, it may well be that the Chinese nuclear secrets issue is at least partially responsible for the unfavorable attitudes towards China measured in the May poll. Still, it is clear that continuing doubts about how China handles the human rights of its citizens also play a big part in constituting Americans' opinions of the country. When asked directly in Gallup's most recent poll to rate "the job the government of China does in respecting the human rights of its citizens," the American public -- by more than a three-to-one margin -- gives China a "bad job" rating.

Specifically, 34% of Americans say that China does a very bad job, with another 35% saying that China does a mostly bad job. Only 21% say that China does a mostly or very good job of respecting these human rights. These feelings are essentially unchanged from two years ago, when Gallup last asked the question.

Despite these strongly negative perceptions, opinion is split on the issue of whether or not U.S.-Chinese trade policies ought to be curtailed as a result of China's human rights record -- an important consideration given that the Clinton administration is slated to ask Congress to renew China's trading privileges with the U.S. on Thursday, June 3. When asked if the U.S. should link human rights issues to U.S. trade policy "even if doing so hurts U.S. economic interests," the American public is evenly divided: 46% say that the two should be linked, while 45% say that they should not be. (These results, although similar to those obtained last year, are somewhat less in favor of a specific linkage policy than was the case in October of 1997.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, Republicans and conservatives are somewhat more likely to want the linkage, while Democrats and liberals are less so. There is also a strong relationship between socioeconomic status and desire to see human rights linked to U.S.-China trade policies -- the higher the level of education and income, the more likely the respondent is to favor explicit linkage.

In March, a similar Gallup Poll question asked the public to assess whether or not the Clinton administration had acted appropriately in "attempting to maintain a constructive working relationship with China." The results were very similar to those of the linkage question: 46% said yes while 47% said no.

It is also clear from the polling data that Americans -- while holding unfavorable opinions of China -- do not necessarily consider the country to be an enemy of the U.S. A March poll asked the public to rate the U.S.-China relationship with one of four labels: ally, friendly, unfriendly, or an enemy. While almost no one rated China as an ally, 28% said it was friendly, 26% said unfriendly, and only 10% said that China was an enemy. A third said they didn't know enough about it to respond.

The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 925 adults, 18 years and older, conducted May 21-23, 1999. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

How would you rate the job the government of China does in respecting the human rights of its citizens -- [READ 1-4/4-1: 1) Very good, 2) mostly good, 3) mostly bad (or) 4) very bad]?

  Very good Mostly good Mostly bad Very bad No opinion
99 May 21-23 3% 18% 35% 34% 10%
97 May 30-Jun 1 3 17 35 34 11

Which of the following statements comes closer to your view -- [ROTATE 1-2: 1) The United States SHOULD link human rights issues in China with U.S.-China trade policy, even if doing so hurts U.S. economic interests (or) 2) The United States SHOULD NOT link human rights issues in China with U.S.-China trade policy because doing so might hurt U.S. economic interests]?

  Should link rights/trade Should not link
rights/trade
No opinion
99 May
21-23
46% 45% 9%
98 Jun
22-23
47 45 8
97 Oct
27-29
55 36 9

The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,025 adults, 18 years and older, conducted May 7-9, 1999. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Next, I'd like your overall opinion of some foreign countries. First, is your overall opinion of [ROTATE A-H] very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable?

  Very favorable Mostly favorable Mostly unfavorable Very unfavorable No opinion
A. China
99 May 7-9 5% 33% 38% 18% 6%
99 Mar 12-14** 2 32 39 20 7
99 Feb 8-9 8 31 34 16 11
98 Jul 7-8 6 38 36 11 9
98 Jun 22-23** 5 34 42 9 10
97 Jun 26-29 5 28 36 14 17
96 Mar 6 33 35 16 10
94 Feb 4 36 38 15 7
93 Nov 10 43 24 15 8
89 Aug 5 29 32 22 12
89 Feb 12 60 10 3 15
87 May 8 57 23 5 7
83 Sep 6 37 31 21 5
80 Jan 6 36 30 24 4
79 Feb 5 25 31 33 6
76 Jan 3 17 29 45 6
67 4 75 16 5 *

** Based on half sample
* Less than 0.5%

Gallup

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