China-bashing is taking its toll.

Over the past year, Americans have been fed a fairly steady stream of news about the People’s Republic of China – and most of it hasn’t been particularly positive.

While Russia may get the more fevered news headlines because of the various political investigations happening in Washington, the current U.S. presidential administration hasn’t shied away from criticizing China on a range woes – trade policy in particular most recently, but also diverse other issues like alleged unfair technology transfer policies, plus the building of man-made islands in the South China Sea thereby bringing Chinese military power closer to other countries in the Pacific Rim.

The drumbeat of criticism could be expected to affect popular opinion about China – and that appears to be the case based on a just-published report from the Pew Research Center.

The Pew report is based on a survey of 1,500 American adults age 18 and over, conducted during the spring of 2018.  It’s a survey that’s been conducted annually since 2012 using the same set of questions (and going back annually to 2005 for a smaller group of the questions).

The newest study shows that the opinions Americans have about China have become somewhat less positive over the past year, after having nudged higher in 2017.

The topline finding is this: today, ~38% of Americans have a favorable opinion of China, which is a drop of six percentage points from Pew’s 2017 finding of ~44%.  We are now flirting with the same favorability levels that Pew was finding during the 2013-2016 period [see the chart above].

Drilling down further, the most significant concerns pertain to China’s economic competition, not its military strength. In addition to trade and tariff concerns, another area of growing concern is about the threat of cyber-attacks from China.

There are also the perennial concerns about the amount of U.S. debt held by China, as well as job losses to China; this has been a leading issue in the Pew surveys dating back to 2012. But even though debt levels remain a top concern, its raw score has fallen pretty dramatically over the past six years.

On the other hand, a substantial and growing percentage of Americans expresses worries about the impact of China’s growth on the quality of the global environment.

Interestingly, the proportion of Americans who consider China’s military prowess to be a bigger threat compared to an economic threat has dropped by a statistically significant seven percentage points over the past year – from 36% to 29%. Perhaps unsurprisingly, younger Americans age 18-29 are far less prone to have concerns over China’s purported saber-rattling – differing significantly from how senior-age respondents feel on this topic.

Taken as a group, eight issues presented by Pew Research in its survey revealed the following ranking of factors, based on whether respondents consider them to be “a serious problem for the United States”:

  • Large U.S. debt held by China: ~62% of respondents consider a “serious problem”
  • Cyber-attacks launched from China: ~57%
  • Loss of jobs to China: ~52%
  • China’s impact on the global environment: ~49%
  • Human rights issues:  ~49%
  • The U.S. trade deficit with China: ~46%
  • Chinese territorial disputes with neighboring countries: ~32%
  • Tensions between China and Taiwan: ~21%

Notice that the U.S. trade deficit isn’t near the top of the list … but Pew does find that it is rising as a concern.

If the current trajectory of tit-for-tat tariff impositions continues to occur, I suspect we’ll see the trade issue being viewed by the public as a more significant problem when Pew administers its next annual survey one year from now.

Furthermore, now that the United States has just concluded negotiations with Canada and Mexico on a “new NAFTA” agreement, coupled with recent trade agreements made with South Korea and the EU countries, it makes the administration’s target on China as “the last domino” just that much more significant.

More detailed findings from the Pew Research survey can be viewed here.

Jobless Americans and Gallows Humor …

Jobless AmericansThere’s a funny-yet-sobering ditty bounding about cyberspace that chronicles a day in the life of an unemployed American looking for work.

Whether it’s the alarm clock, the coffee pot, clothing, appliances, the car and the gasoline it takes to run it, everything with which this person interfaces during the course of the day comes from overseas – especially China or some other East Asian country.

For those of you who haven’t encountered this satirical little piece yet, you can read it here.

Dana Bales, an industry colleague of mine who is a managing partner at Dayton, OH-based NEO Marketing Communications, reacted to this joke by noting a few key points about China. He writes:

I’m a free trade advocate. I absolutely support NAFTA. But for the life of me, I don’t get our trade relationship with China. Let me get this straight:

 China imposes trade barriers to many of our goods and services.

 China allows its industries to pollute with impunity, keeping its costs for manufactured goods lower while adding to atmospheric and oceanic pollution.

 China allows its citizens and companies to rip off non-Chinese patents.

 Although experts may disagree on the degree of impact, China manipulates its currency to benefit its own export goods.

 China actively supports efforts to hack into U.S. corporate and defense systems, stealing untold billions of dollars’ worth of technology.

 China uses American dollars to subsidize its own industries.

Food for thought, indeed – even if you don’t agree with every single one of Bales’ statements.

It would be nice, too, if our government and trade officials could focus on coming up with some workable solutions to these issues. I think we’d all be happier if we could relegate this sort of gallows humor to the literary trash can!