Global Attitudes Towards America and China

Edit: I apologize in advance for the disjointed nature of this post. It was originally supposed to be about the U.S., but during my research I found interesting material on China as well, which I felt made sense to include given that country’s rise. I figure the data and infographics would be worth sharing anyway.

World powers tend to be polarizing among the global community, and the United States is certainly no exception, especially in light of recent events: aside from the lingering anti-Americanism that arose in response to the invasion of Iraq a decade ago, controversial policies such as drone strikes and foreign spying have incited further disapproval and hostility.

Add to the mix well-publicized domestic problems , such as an increasingly dysfunctional political system and sclerotic economy,  and the U.S. seems a lot less appealing as both an international player and a national role model — indeed, even many Americans themselves appear to concede this point.

So how has America fared abroad given its apparent decline in fortune and moral credibility? And what of China, a country whose growing wealth, rapid development, and subsequent global clout seem to make it ripe as a succeeding superpower?  Well, if the recent Pew Research Center survey of 44 nations is any indicator, the track record remains as mixed as ever, although the results may surprise you.

Here are the top ten biggest critics and fans of the U.S.:

Overall, the U.S. remains fairly popular in Sub-Saharan Africa, much of Asia (particular East and Southeast Asia), Europe, and Latin America. Notably, it is viewed more favorably than its biggest current rival, China (especially in Asia) and has a far more positive image than Russia, with which relations have visibly soured to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

Here are some charts from another Pew study showing China’s standing among roughly the same nations polled for the U.S. survey:

Notice the discrepancy with regard to the Middle East, which is broadly America’s greatest critic and China’s biggest booster. Pew’s assessment of the data goes a bit further in detail on the U.S.’s biggest detractors and supporters:

Anti-Americanism is particularly strong today in the Middle East. In Egypt only 10% of the public favor the United States, which long backed the regime of Hosni Mubarak and failed to oppose the military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government that succeeded him. Support is not much higher in Jordan (12%) and Turkey (19%), both countries that are notionally Washington’s allies. Those not-so-warm feelings for America have fallen 17 percentage points in Egypt and 13 points in Jordan since 2009, the first year of the Obama administration, when there appeared to be some hope in those nations that Uncle Sam would pursue policies more to their liking.

In addition, less than a quarter of Russians (23%) have a positive view of America, whose image is down 28 points in just the last year, a casualty of Washington’s opposition to Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.

But there are still corners of the world where America is held in high regard. In European countries surveyed, half or more of the publics in seven of nine nations say they see the U.S. in a positive light. Top of the list are Italians (78%), French (75%) and Poles (73%). Only in Germany, where U.S. favorability is down 13 points since 2009, has the positive image of the United States slipped significantly. And, despite this slippage, roughly half of Germans (51%) still see America favorably.

Asians are also pro-American. In fact, the Filipinos are the biggest fans of the U.S.; 92% express a positive view. South Koreans (82%), Bangladeshis (76%) and Vietnamese (76%) also agree. Even half the Chinese give Uncle Sam a thumbs up. However, Pakistanis (14%) share no love for the United States (but neither do Americans have much affection for Pakistan).

The U.S. is also feeling the love from Latin America, where majorities see the U.S. in a favorable light in eight of nine countries surveyed. Salvadorans (80%) are particularly positive in their assessment, as are Chileans (72%) and Nicaraguans (71%). Notably, despite all the tensions between Washington and Caracas, more than six-in-ten Venezuelans have a favorable opinion of the U.S.

And Africans express particularly positive views about America. Strong majorities in all seven nations surveyed back the United States, including roughly three-quarters or more of Kenyans (80%), Ghanaians (77%), Tanzanians (75%) and Senegalese (74%).

France, widely considered by most Americans to be the most anti-American country in the world, is actually one of our key boosters. This may be attributed to the two nations having similarly exceptional foundations in Enlightenment Era revolutions, but there is likely some genuine admiration of U.S. culture as well. Germany stands out for its very divisive attitude towards the U.S., which probably hasn’t been helped by recent revelations of CIA spying in that country. As Europe’s leading economic and political power, Germany may regard America’s traditionally large role on the continent as an increasing rivalry. Of course, differences in foreign policy initiatives and stances certainly don’t help.

Vietnam’s overwhelmingly positive view is pretty surprising given the horrific toll of the war with the U.S., whose scars still linger to this day (the nearly 20-year conflict ended in 1975, not necessarily that long ago in the public memory). Anecdotes from American travelers to Vietnam have also highlighted this warm attitude, which may have a lot to do with demographics — a large chunk of the Vietnamese population was born after the war and thus has little memory of it — as well as history; spanning three thousand years, Vietnamese civilization has contended with many invaders, including centuries of resistance to China. Maybe a comparatively meager two-decade conflict just isn’t as pivotal in the grand scheme of historical memory.

In any case, I can spend hours dissecting the basis of each country’s attitudes towards the U.S. and  China, but sadly, time is short. It is worth pointing out that despite the lukewarm or unfavorable attitudes towards China, even critics can concede one thing: like it or not, the country is the next in line for superpower status:

Note that this poll assesses only 20 countries, albeit many of the same ones covered in the poll of attitudes towards the U.S.

Whatever change in the real or perceived power of either country — and their resultant shift in global image — it can be certain that as long as any nation wields great influence in the world, it will have a fair share of critics and fans alike. But in an increasingly multi-polar world, where power is more diffuse than ever, will any of this really matter? Will any superpower be able to act freely without concern for international opinion? How important is a nation’s brands to its ability to conduct affairs or executed initiatives abroad? What are your thoughts?

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