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Negative views of China and leader Xi Jinping in Japan have again risen this year, a new survey has shown, amid a surge in such sentiment in advanced economies that say Beijing has handled the COVID-19 pandemic poorly.

According to a survey released late Tuesday by the Pew Research Center, majorities in 14 countries surveyed have an unfavorable opinion of China, with negative views in Australia, the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United States, South Korea, Spain and Canada hitting their highest points since polling on the subject began more than a decade ago.

Japan, where negative views of China have remained relatively static since 2013, recorded the highest unfavorable rating among all 14 nations, at 86 percent, with 52 percent saying they viewed China as “very unfavorable” and 34 percent as “somewhat unfavorable.”

Although the overall unfavorable view in Japan was just 1 percentage point higher than last year, it has consistently been the country with the most negative views of China.

“In terms of Japanese opinion of China, one of the notable things is that negative views have been very high for a number of years and there is little room for variation,” Pew senior researcher Laura Silver told The Japan Times. “Although unfavorable views did not shift substantially in the past year, Japanese are nonetheless the most unfavorable toward China across the 14 countries surveyed.”

The jump in negative views comes amid widespread criticism over Beijing’s global response to the coronavirus pandemic, including claims of a lack of transparency and for allegedly downplaying the outbreak in the early days.

China has also faced a volley of criticism for other issues this year, including its crackdown on Hong Kong, the mass internment of ethnic Muslim Uighurs in its far-west Xinjiang region and growing maritime assertiveness. Those issues, however, were not mentioned in the survey.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has defended his country’s response to COVID-19, saying it acted in an open manner and that its concrete measures to rein in the deadly virus helped save tens of millions of lives around the world.

Xi Jinping | REUTERS
Xi Jinping | REUTERS

Nevertheless, negative reviews permeated the survey, with the most unfavorable coming from three nations in the Asia-Pacific region.

“More than seven-in-ten in Japan, South Korea and Australia say China has done a bad job dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, including more than four-in-ten in each country who say they did a very bad job,” the survey said.

Pew said that across the 14 nations, a median of 61 percent said that China has done a poor job dealing with the outbreak — far more than said the same of the way the COVID-19 pandemic was handled by their own country or by international organizations such as the World Health Organization.

“Only the U.S. receives more negative evaluations from the surveyed publics, with a median of 84% saying the U.S. has handled the coronavirus outbreak poorly,” the report said.

The United States has seen more than 210,000 deaths related to the coronavirus and has recorded more than 7.44 million infections. Both figures are far and away the most in the world.

And while disapproval of Beijing’s handling of the pandemic also colored people’s confidence in Xi, many in the 14 nations surveyed still have more faith in him than in U.S. President Donald Trump, the survey showed.

Trump on Monday left a military hospital after spending three nights being treated for the deadly coronavirus.

Donald Trump | AP
Donald Trump | AP

Still, a median of 78 percent say they have not too much or no confidence in Xi to do the right thing regarding world affairs, including at least 7 in 10 in every country surveyed.

About half of those surveyed in Japan and Australia also say they have no confidence at all in Xi. The trend was especially noticeable in Japan, where less than 0.5 percent of the public — “effectively no one,” according to the survey — reported having a lot of confidence in the Chinese leader.

“This lack of confidence in Xi is at historic highs in every country for which trend data is available except Japan and Spain,” the survey said. “In most countries, the percent saying they have not too much or no confidence in him has grown by double digits since last year.”

It’s unclear how the Japanese public’s negative view of Xi will affect policymaking, but new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has vowed to continue the many of the efforts of his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, to rebuild his country’s relationship with Beijing.

Japan has voiced concerns over a variety of security issues related to China but maintains close economic ties with Beijing, its largest trading partner.

In a sign of the economic might China wields, majorities in just three of the countries surveyed said the United States retains the title as the global economic heavyweight champion: the U.S. itself at 52 percent, Japan at 53 percent and South Korea at 77 percent.

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