Jack Mageau is a Policy Research Assistant for the China Institute at the University of Alberta. He received his Master of Philosophy in Modern Chinese Studies at Oxford University, where he focused on China-US competition in emerging technologies.
For Western policymakers and analysts, China is increasingly a “black box,” with information on public opinion and foreign policy decision-making within the country becoming more difficult to obtain.
Nevertheless, views of the Chinese public matter as policymakers and analysts seek to interpret China’s increasingly assertive stance on the global stage and its recent overtures to Ukraine amid its continuing support of Russia. Despite China’s authoritarian government and opaque foreign policy process, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has shown to be sensitive to public sentiments in its foreign policy decision-making. Thus, trends and shifts in public perception within China can have a meaningful impact on China’s foreign relations. Yet, there is very little understanding backed by quantifiable research of how the Chinese public perceive their country’s global roles and relations with major foreign powers.
In an endeavor to bridge the knowledge gap, the China Institute at the University of Alberta (CIUA) presents the Chinese Citizens’ Global Perception Survey (CCGPS 2023). CCGPS 2023 is an online and telephone national survey conducted across urban and rural mainland China in the first quarter of 2023 in partnership with a private mainland Chinese survey firm. Utilizing a stratified random sampling approach, the CCGPS elicited 2,009 valid responses and achieved a distribution of responses that generally mirrors China’s 2020 national census demographics regarding gender, age, education, income, and residential location type. Therefore, the survey provides a demographically representative and statistically valid, candid account of how the Chinese public views other nations and their relationships with China.
The CCGPS 2023 examines Chinese citizens’ perspectives on China’s relationships with Australia, Canada, the EU, France, Germany, India, Russia, the UK, and the US. It covers five areas: (1) Chinese citizens’ general global perception; (2) China’s global roles; (3) Foreign tourism, study, work, and emigration preferences; (4) Canada-China relations; (5) Chinese citizens’ sources and knowledge of global jurisdictions.
The CCGPS 2023 has important implications for policymakers and key stakeholders in the US and around the world, as they seek to gauge Chinese attitudes toward major global powers and the factors shaping these perceptions. It highlights the critical nuances that provide a greater understanding of the complexities of Chinese public opinion. Importantly, it insight into several pressing issues for the US and its allies, including Chinese perceptions of American power, Chinese attitudes toward Russia, and attitudes toward economic and technological decoupling.
Part I: General Global Perceptions
- Chinese citizens view the US as the world’s most influential power by a significant margin, followed by Russia and the European Union, respectively. Japan, India, and Australia are viewed as the least influential nations.
- Russia is considered the most trusted and important nation to China’s future. Respondents ranked the US and Japan as the least trustworthy nations; the latter was viewed as having the least important relationship with China among the jurisdictions included in the survey.
- Respondents perceived the US and Japan as most likely to engage in a military conflict with China in the next decade. But they viewed a potential conflict with US-allied nations such as Germany, France, and Canada as somewhat unlikely. Russia was deemed the least likely to engage in a future conflict with China.
Part II: China’s Global Role
- Respondents indicated their belief that China should take an “active global role” across all spheres of international engagement, with the younger cohort most likely supporting a greater global role for China. The most favourable areas for Chinese global leadership are peace and security, and technology and innovation. Less popular domains include global financial standards and global environmental governance.
- While lukewarm in expanding ties with Western jurisdictions, the Chinese public does not favour “decoupling” from Western-aligned nations in economic and technological relations.
- Regardless of age or income level, respondents indicated a strong consensus pertaining to the importance of expanding economic ties with Russia.
Part III: Tourism, Study, Work, and Emigration Preferences
- Respondents indicated a strong desire to engage directly with Western countries on a personal level despite rising tensions between China and most Western nations.
- Respondents viewed Russia as a desirable destination for travel, work, and emigration.
- The US was the most popular destination choice for studying abroad, followed closely by the UK.
Part IV: Canada-China Relations
- The Chinese public favoured expanding ties with Canada despite the current fraught relationship between Canada and China. Respondents indicated strong support for cooperation in global and regional peace and security and cultural exchanges.
- Respondents considered two significant factors impacting Canada-China relations: China’s growing power and Canada’s close relationship with the US. Cultural and value differences and Canada’s domestic and foreign policies were perceived to play a lesser role.
Part V: Sources and Knowledge of Global Jurisdictions
- Those living in China are more likely to rely on social media and word-of-mouth than state media (TV, radio, and newspapers) to learn about global jurisdictions.
- Respondents reported they were highly knowledgeable about the US, Japan, and Russia and less about Canada, the UK, and the EU.
- Self-reported higher levels of knowledge of a jurisdiction corresponded to more extreme levels of high or low levels of trust in said jurisdiction.
- Regardless of income level or age, the respondent indicated that Chinese citizens strongly believe that a government’s action reflects the popular will.
To read the full report, please click here.