China Power

Made in China

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China Power

Made in China

China’s exporting prowess isn’t just good for its economy. It sometimes helps its image.

The BBC World Service has released its latest annual poll on global public opinion, including how countries including China are viewed around the world.

The best news is for the United States, which has seen another sharp improvement in its image over the past year, with 40 percent of those in 14 countries tracked since 2005 seeing it as a positive influence in the world, up from only 28 percent in 2007.

The top rated country in Asia was Japan with 53 percent seeing it as a positive influence (Iran, Pakistan and North Korea bring up the rear), but China has also managed to halt its image slide, with 41 percent now holding positive views, while 38 percent hold a negative view.

However, the report notes that while the overall view is stable, there have been some marked shifts within countries. The biggest was the Philippines, which saw a remarkable turnaround from last year, when 52 percent took a negative view, to this year when 55 percent said they had a positive view.

I asked Mong Palatino, a lawmaker in the Philippines who heads The Diplomat’s coverage of the upcoming Philippines elections, and Julius Rocas, a Filipino student activist and blogger, for their take on these figures. Interestingly, both cited the same core likely reason—China makes life cheaper for Filipinos.

Mong noted that Chinese investment has been pouring into the Philippines in recent years (according to Economy Watch, China was the third biggest source of imports for the Philippines, at 8.8 percent, in 2009) and says that the affordability of Chinese goods trumps concerns over the fact that some may be competing with locally produced goods.

Julius agreed and gave me this example:

‘China is well known for being a maker of cheap rip-offs of expensive, top-of-the-line mobile phones from Nokia. So those who are on a very tight budget but still want to have a mobile phone with the same features as the newest model from Nokia go buy what we commonly refer to as the “China phone.”’

He told me that on a broader level, many Filipino exporters see China as the ‘the next big thing’ after the United States, a feeling that was boosted with the economic crisis that hit the US, a development that also hurt many Filipino businesses.

But he also pointed to the close historical ties between the two peoples (indeed, by some reckonings about 70 percent of Filipinos have Chinese ancestry) as another possible reason for the positive views:

‘Filipinos have been living with the Chinese for centuries and there’s a vibrant Chinese community in Manila and most cities. This has given birth to a segment of wealthy elite known as TaiPans or rich Filipino-Chinese businessmen.

‘And culturally, we Filipinos are fond of almost anything Chinese, especially the food and some spiritual beliefs like Feng Shui.’