The World Doesn't Think Much of China’s Leaders (Literally)


Gallup has released a new poll on global public opinion regarding the leadership of U.S., China, Russia, the EU, and Germany. While most media coverage, including Gallup’s own summary, focused on the perceptions of the U.S. and Russia, the survey also contains interesting tidbits about how the world views China’s top leadership under President Xi Jinping. The data mostly serves to reinforce expectations – that China is more popular in the developing worlds (particularly among African countries) and is looked on with suspicion by the West.

According to Gallup’s introduction to the poll, the survey asked “people in 135 countries how they feel about the job performance of U.S. leadership… [and] how they feel about the leadership of the European Union, Germany, Russia, and China.” Data was gathered in almost all of North and South America, Europe, and Oceania. A majority of African countries were included as well, but Libya, Morocco, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe were not polled. In Asia, notable omissions were Saudi Arabia, Oman, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and, interestingly, China itself.

“Residents in China are not asked to rate their own country’s leadership or that of other countries because of the sensitive nature of the question,” Gallup said. It’s safe to assume that, had Chinese poll data been taken and incorporated, the U.S. rating would have taken a hit and Russia and China both would likely have moved up in the rankings – but given the number of countries polled, the end data (based on a median ranking in all countries surveyed) would not have been greatly affected.

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As of 2014, U.S. leadership has the highest approval rating at 45 percent, followed by Germany (41 percent), the EU (39 percent), China, (29 percent) and Russia (22 percent). International approval ratings for China have dropped significantly from a high of 40 percent in 2008 (the year Beijing hosted the Summer Olympic Games) and has held steady at 29 percent approval for the past three years.

Interestingly, however, China’s low approval ratings are mirrored by low disapproval ratings, with only 28 percent of people saying they actively disapproved of China’s leadership. Gallup concludes that “China’s leadership is the least well-known worldwide (the median with no opinion is 32 percent).”

As the report notes, opinions of China vary wildly. From 2013 to 2014, there were double-digit declines in Xi and company’s approval rating in nine countries, but also double-digits gains in four countries (notably Russia, where China received just a 25 percent approval rating in 2013 but scored 42 percent in 2014).

China is especially popular on the African continent, where Beijing’s leaders enjoys a majority approval rating in many countries. The 11 countries giving China the highest marks are all located in western and central Africa. In total, 22 countries had a majority of respondents approve of China’s leadership – and 20 of these were countries in Africa, with the other two (Pakistan and Tajikistan) in Asia.

At the same time, however, China’s approval ratings in some African countries cratered from 2013 to 2014. In Ethiopia, approval of China’s leaders plummeted 31 percentage points, ending at 18 percent. Gabon, Tanzania, Uganda, and Guinea also registered double-digit percentage point drops in China’s approval rating (although Beijing still enjoys a rating of 50 percent or better in Tanzania, Gabon, and Guinea).

Though China doesn’t reach majority approvals in most of the world, it does enjoy higher approval ratings in the developing world. Latin American, Central Asian, and Eastern European countries generally rated China more highly than did Western Europe and the U.S. The notable exception to the trend is found in China’s own backyard, where a number of regional states (including India, Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Indonesia) gave Beijing approval ratings roughly on par with U.S. residents’ opinions. However, China’s near neighbors are clearly split — other countries (like Pakistan, Cambodia, and Malaysia) think more highly China’s leaders.

Overall, though, China’s disapproval ratings are highest in Europe and the United States. Interestingly, Germany gives China the highest disapproval rating (78 percent), higher than either the U.S. (70 percent) or Japan (67 percent). There are 28 countries or regions where a majority of residents disapprove of China’s leaders, with almost all being Western countries. The three exceptions are all located within Asia — Japan, the Philippines, and (worryingly for Beijing) Hong Kong.

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