BEIJING- People around the world see China as “confident”, “belligerent” and “arrogant”, state-run media reported Tuesday in an unusually direct survey of attitudes towards the country.
Only 13 percent of respondents in the poll by the Global Times newspaper described China as “peaceful”, a sign that Beijing’s territorial disputes with its Asian neighbours have taken a toll on its image.
It also concluded that “the closer you are to China, the more likely you are to have a negative view of it”.
The Global Times tends to take a nationalistic stance and is close to the ruling Communist Party.
With the exception of rivals such as the US or Japan, state-run media coverage of relations with other countries normally concentrates on the positive, and it is rare for criticism of China to be reported.
But in the survey of 14,400 people in 14 countries, 30.3 percent of respondents called China “confident” in international affairs, with 29.4 percent describing it as “belligerent”, while “complicated” was chosen by 28.1 percent.
“People also describe China with words such as ‘tough’, ‘arrogant’ and ‘cooperative’,” the paper added, with each of them chosen by about 25 percent of respondents.
China has long been embroiled in disputes with its neighbours, particularly Japan and the Philippines, over islands in the East and South China Seas.
The report cited the limited international influence of Chinese media as one possible reason for negative perceptions of China abroad.
The survey was conducted last month in countries including the United States, Russia, Japan, India, Vietnam, South Korea, South Africa, Britain, the Philippines and Brazil.
The paper did not detail the methodology of the study, carried out by the Global Times Global Poll Center, but described it as “the first political survey conducted by a Chinese media agency on a global scale as the country grows increasingly concerned about its soft power”.
The paper quoted Swaran Singh of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi as saying the adjectives used “can be seen as elements of any rapidly evolving rising power”.
“China needs to develop its soft power,” it cited Sunjoy Joshi, of India’s Observer Research Foundation, as saying. “It needs to be gentle in its conduct of neighbourhood diplomacy. Similarly it must not allow its economic diplomacy to be viewed as neocolonialism or 21st century resource colonisation.”
The regional territorial tensions were ratcheted up last month with China’s declaration of an air defence identification zone over part of the East China Sea, a move that prompted a backlash among the US, Japan and South Korea.
China’s image abroad also suffered a hit last month when it announced it was initially sending only $100,000 in humanitarian relief to the typhoon-hit Philippines. Authorities later increased the amount but not before a barrage of criticism.
About 25.4 percent of respondents from neighbouring countries said they “like” China, according to the survey, compared with 36.0 percent from non-neighbouring countries.
The poll also showed that only 12.1 percent of respondents get news about China through Chinese media programmes broadcast in their countries.
By contrast, 44.4 percent said they learn about China from “internationally recognised media, such as CNN and the BBC”, while 39.5 percent cited their local television stations as a source.
“If most people learn about China from English-speaking news outlets, their image of China is naturally biased,” Chu Shulong, a Tsinghua University professor, told the paper.
China Central Television (CCTV) has moved in recent years rapidly to expand both its newsgathering operations and its English-language overseas service to try to compete with other international broadcasters.
Over the past three years, the Chinese state broadcaster has increased its employees abroad nearly tenfold, with 446 staffers now stationed at 70 foreign bureaux, Europe bureau chief Shen Jianing said last month.
The company estimates that more than 85 million viewers around the globe are able to see its 24-hour English-language broadcast.