Page last updated at 16:14 GMT, Monday, 4 August 2008 17:14 UK

World still wary of modern China

Poll graph

With the Olympic Games about to begin, a recent survey found most Chinese people happy with the way their country was progressing. But how does the rest of the world view China? The BBC's Caroline Hawley reports.

Chinese police near the Olympic stadium
China hopes the games will improve its international image
As China gears up to give the world the "greatest show on Earth" at Friday's opening of the Olympic Games, it is no surprise that the mood in the country appears confident and proudly nationalistic.

The Beijing games have, after all, been billed as the "coming out party" for the world's rising superpower.

A recent survey found 86% of Chinese happy with the direction that the country is taking - the highest score of any country surveyed.

But what does the world think of China?

That depends, of course, on where you are.

An opinion poll commissioned by the BBC's Newsnight - and conducted in the United States, Britain, Brazil, India and South Korea - finds some wariness of China's new global dominance.

Overall, most people see the Chinese people as "friendly" and "modern" - only in South Korea did a majority disagree.

Trading partners

But almost half of all Americans questioned view China as more of a threat than an ally.

In South Korea and India people were also more inclined to see China as a threat, although in Britain and Brazil - a key trading partner - more people viewed China as an ally than a threat.

The survey revealed widespread concern over China's human rights record, which Beijing promised to improve when it made its bid for the games.

The head of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, has said he is "convinced that the Olympic Games will improve human rights in China".

Chinese tourists at the Olympic stadium
Most people view the Chinese as friendly and modern
But Amnesty International has accused the country of failing to make good its pledge and "tarnishing the legacy of the games".

The poll showed that 65% of people in the US and Britain, and more than half of those Brazilians surveyed, see the Chinese people as "oppressed".

Interestingly though, the figure was only 40% in India and a larger number of Indians thought the Chinese were "free" than "oppressed".

"There's still a strong perception in the West that the Chinese are oppressed," says Sam Mountford, research director of GlobeScan which carried out the poll.

"The protests we've seen about China's human rights record ahead of the Olympics will only have increased that sense."

Growing economy

With China now thought to be the world's biggest emitter of CO2 (carbon dioxide), a significant proportion of people blame it for global warming although - perhaps surprisingly - a majority of respondents in both Britain and the US did not think China was responsible.

"There's not much evidence here of a desire to blame China for the big global problems we're currently faced with like rising energy prices or food prices," says Mr Mountford.

"And it's surprising that despite all the concern about the growth in China's carbon emissions, it's people in the other big emerging economies like Brazil or India that are more likely to blame China for climate change."

China now has the world's fastest growing economy. It is estimated to have increased by 54% since the last Olympic Games in Athens in 2004.

But, despite the ubiquity of Chinese consumer goods around the world, in no country where the poll was conducted did a majority believe that Chinese economic growth had improved their own standard of living.

Chinese police in Xinjiang Province
China's human rights record still comes in for criticism

More than a third of American respondents said their living standards had actually been reduced.

"We've seen support for globalisation drop off in recent years around the world and this may be more evidence of people in the West worrying about jobs disappearing into lower-wage economies in the developing world," says Mr Mountford.

He adds: "Maybe one of the most surprising things in the poll is that even though China as a country has been isolated from the outside world for such a long time, majorities in Britain, the US and India still see the Chinese as 'friendly' and over half in the US and Britain think that the Chinese are like them."

And, interestingly, in every country polled, younger people were more likely than those over 35 to see China as an ally rather than a threat.


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