|Fully two-thirds (66%) of Americans say they have a negative view of China, the largest unfavorable share since Pew began asking this question in 2005. Over the years, Americans age 50+ have consistently viewed China much more negatively than those ages 18 to 29, but for the first time, the majority of young Americans now also have a negative opinion. (Pew Research Center)|
NH: Americans' attitudes toward China have turned sharply more hostile over the last two years. In 2018, per this Pew survey, 47% of Americans said they have a negative view of China--versus 44% who had a favorable view. As of March 2020, the negative view has risen to 66% and the positive view has sunk to 26%.
Nearly 90% of Americans now say China's power and influence are a "threat" to the U.S. And 62% say China is a "major threat," up from 48% in 2018. See first two charts below.
According to FTI Consulting, 40% of Americans say they "will not purchase" made-in-China products--a much bigger share than would refuse to buy from any other country. Most don't think China will follow through on its recent commitment to buy more U.S. goods. Large majorities say they would pay more for products made at home and that they favor import restrictions over free trade as a means of boosting the U.S. economy. Nearly nine in ten say the U.S. relies too heavily on foreign supply chains. Last October, in an American Chamber of Commerce survey of its Chinese members, 66% said it was "not possible" for the U.S. and Chinese economies to "decouple." By March, only 44% said it was not possible.
Negative views have been generally trending up over the past 15 years. Back in 2013, we wrote about an earlier wave of anti-China sentiment driven by perceived job losses to China. (See "America Looks East--With Apprehension.") The new wave that began in 2018 coincided with President Trump's launching of a tariff war with China at a much better moment in the U.S. business cycle. His argument, that China's trade policies are unfair and take advantage of its trading partners, found growing agreement among Americans. (See "America Threatens a Trade War with China.") Soon other news further inflamed the anti-China sentiment: mass detention of Uighurs, Hong Kong demonstrations, cyberhacking campaigns, "disappearing" of dissidents, Xi Jinping's inauguration as leader for life, military intimidation of neighbors, and so on.
Partisan politics has thrown further kindling on the fire. Early in the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump's anti-China stance seemed to put him at odds with top Democrats (and even many Republicans) who still favored the basic logic of globalism. Since then, the Democrats have spurned globalism. They are now doing their best to turn the tables on Trump by attacking his eagerness to forgive China's human rights violations so long as he gets his "deal." Joe Biden, Trump's presumptive opponent in 2020, is playing up his hard line on China by calling Xi "a thug" and promising to face up to China's militarization of the South China Sea. In effect, the two parties are now competing with each other to come across as the toughest on China.
Yes, Republican-leaning Americans are somewhat (10 percentage points) more likely than Democrats to be negative on China. But this has always been true, and the recent negative jump has been even higher among Democrats than Republicans. Republicans tend to worry more about China's economic policies and its growing military and technological power. Democrats worry more about China's impact on the global environment. Both worry equally about China's human rights violations and its treatment of Hong Kong. See charts three and four below.
The generational gap is actually larger than the partisan gap: Millennials are the least likely to have an "unfavorable" attitude toward China; Boomers and Silent are most likely. In part, this is because Millennials don't like to admit feeling unfavorably about anything. And, in part, it is because they are less bothered by authoritarian regimes that provide social order, promote technology, invest heavily in the future, and provide rising living standards for young people--something they don't see happening that much in liberal democracies. (See "Are Millennials Giving Up on Democracy?")
Even Millennials, however, are joining the national anti-China trend. In 2020, 53% of Americans under age 30 say that have an unfavorable opinion of China. That's more than double what it was back in 2011 or 2012. See chart five below.
Since the global pandemic hit, high-level communications between the two nations have been heating up fast. The U.S. and China have traded accusations about who caused the pandemic and have taken turns expelling each other's journalists. President Trump has suggested delisting Chinese firms on U.S. exchanges or abruptly cutting off U.S. investment flows to China. In response, China's state media has called the White House "insane and evasive." Xi is deliberately steering the direction of Chinese social media toward rampant anti-Americanism. At this point, any spark could ignite a five-alarm fire.
One spark may be going off this week, when the annual session of China's National People's Congress is likely to rubber-stamp a CCP proposal to strip much of Hong Kong's autonomy from the mainland. Should the measure be enacted, the White House and both parties in Congress are promising a swift response. This could mean decertifying Hong Kong's special trading privileges with the U.S. More ominously, it could also mean a barrage of U.S. sanctions on all Chinese officials or firms that enforce or benefit from this new law. And this could bring a large share of global trade, already flagging, to a screeching halt.
By moving now while the world is reeling from the pandemic, China is daring America and the world to respond. Xi may feel--like Vladimir Putin with the Ukraine--that he has no other choice: When it comes to national integrity, there can be no compromise. So we all wait to see what happens.
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ABOUT NEIL HOWE
Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.
A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.
Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."
Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.
Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.
Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.