The leader of the free world got a lecture from the leader of China last week.
Reuters reported on Thursday: Chinese leader Xi Jinping warned against playing with fire over Taiwan in a call with U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday, highlighting Beijing's concerns about a possible visit to the Chinese-claimed island by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
"Those who play with fire will perish by it," China's foreign ministry quoted Xi as telling Biden in their fifth call as leaders. "It is hoped that the U.S. will be clear-eyed about this."
Playing with fire? The roguish tone of the rhetoric sounds more North Korean or Iranian. China, incidentally, tops the list of U.S. importers. The United States has imported $223 billion in goods this year from China. Is this how China treats its major client?
China is neither an ally nor an enemy. It is a rising global power vying for superpower status. China's military might, desire for dominance, and treatment of its adjacent lands are causes of concern. According to national security experts, China is the most important global power for the United States to concentrate its efforts on, followed by Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
How Americans view China will have a bearing on U.S. foreign policy, consumption of goods made in China, and broader trade with the country.
Each month since March 2021, we ask Americans the question to rate China's favorability: Generally speaking, is your opinion of China: Very Favorable, Somewhat Favorable, Not Very Favorable, or Not At All Favorable? The responses to the question in our July poll read as follows:
- 8% Very favorable
- 16% Somewhat favorable
- 32% Not very favorable
- 30% Not at all favorable
- 14% Not sure
Most Americans (62%) share an unfavorable view of China. Only 24% have a favorable view.
Using the survey responses to our China favorability question, TIPP also developed the China Favorability Index and started tracking it in March 2021. The index ranges from 0 to 100. A reading of 50 or higher is favorable, while a reading of 50 or lower is unfavorable. 50 is neutral.
The index for July is 32.8. The average for the past 12 months is 31.8. None of the 36 demographic groups we track has a favorable opinion of China.
The pandemic has claimed nearly 6.4 million lives. China is unwilling to show remorse and cooperate in determining the virus's origin, preferring to stonewall the issue. Almost two-thirds of Americans believe China should pay reparations for the pandemic.
Further, China's treatment of Uyghurs and handling of Hong Kong raise human rights issues. Many describe the Uyghur situation as a genocide.
Americans broadly favor active measures to counter China's aggressive moves against Taiwan.
The U.S. relies on China for trade and the supply of critical goods. And China's economy depends on trade with the U.S.
Behind The Numbers
Based on the 12-month average, the perception of China is most positive among
- Age 18-24 (47.5),
- Age 25-44 (46.3),
- Black (44.9),
- Hispanic (43.8),
- Democrats (43.4), and
- Urban residents (43.2)
Using the same measure, the perception of China is most negative among
- Age 65+ (16.3),
- Republicans (20.3),
- White women (22.7),
- Age 45-64 (23.6),
- Rural (23.7), and
- White (26.0)
President Biden's Handling Of China
Only 25% give President Biden an A or B for handling China. Democrats and liberals have a favorable view of Biden's handling of China, while Republicans and conservatives have an unfavorable view. Independents and moderates are closer to Republicans than Democrats.
By party and ideology, share giving an A or B:
- 45% of Democrats
- 8% of Republicans
- 16% of Independents
- 18% of Conservatives
- 23% of Moderates
- 42% of Liberals
The data does not paint a good picture of China-U.S. relations. China's aggressive tone against the proposed visit highlights Beijing's growing belligerence. The House Speaker's stopover in Taiwan is not a provocation. Foreign officials have paid visits to the island that is under China's "One nation, two systems" dictum. The Vice President of the E.U. parliament paid a visit a few short weeks ago. Newt Gingrich, then-Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, visited Taiwan in 1997. Then, why the sudden opposition to Nancy Pelosi's proposed visit?
Veiled threats and warnings are Beijing's way of ensuring that Taiwan, a pro-democracy island, does not gain international stature and advance cooperation with the West. With the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party round the corner, President Xi likely wants to be perceived as a being in total control of Taipei.
The consensus that President Xi is biding time and plans to "reunify" Taiwan, even using military force, has kept tensions high in the region. Despite the aggressive tone, it is highly unlikely that Beijing would use the visit as a reason to start a war. But, President Xi will make the most of the opportunity to badger Taiwan, making it clear who is the boss.
The world does not need another unnecessary or accidental war. As long as all parties remain cordial and rein in their rhetoric, the visit will not trigger another Taiwan Strait crisis. Sticking to 'strategic ambiguity' and accepting the "One China policy" should be enough diplomatic correctness for both parties.
The aspiration to become a global superpower and roguish rhetoric do not go together.
Circling back to Nancy Pelosi, the speaker must not cancel her visit. Doing so would communicate American weakness. And weakness invites more aggression.
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