International opinions about which nations are a positive influence on global affairs are changing. Around the world, more people are looking to Asia while increasing numbers are disappointed with Europe. However, Asians themselves remained wary of their neighbors.
Political scientists and economists have proposed the notion in past years that global influences are in flux, and it now seems that hard numbers are supporting their ideas about changing global viewpoints.
A major poll on world perceptions of national influence, conducted by Canadian research and polling company GlobeScan and the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes for the BBC World Service, found views of Europe have declined sharply over the past year, while perceptions of China had improved significantly.
The 2012 survey China placed fifth overall, ahead of both the U.S. (eighth) and European Union (seventh).
GlobeScan President Chris Coulter said that Turmoil in the EU, long seen as an attractive bastion of political and economic stability, has raised doubts in people's minds about its continued ability to be a global leader. Hopes are turning to China. Positive and negative viewpoints of the EU have respectively fallen and risen by 8 percentage points each.
More than 24,000 citizens were polled worldwide through face-to-face interviews and by phone on perceptions of their own country's influence on the world and the influences of 21 other major nations.
China Gets A Conditional Boost
China's soft-power campaign appears to be working. 50 percent of survey respondents found it a positive influence in world affairs, while only 31 said it was a negative one. Across the West, the percentage of those who saw China as a positive influence in the world grew nearly 20 percentage points from 2011 to 2012.
In the UK respondents who said they saw China as a constructive influence went from 38 to 57 percent; in Australia, those numbers increased from 43 to 61 percent; more than half of Canadians, 53 percent, said the same, whereas only 35 percent did before; in Germany positive views of China went from 24 to 42 percent.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., 42 percent saw China as positive and 46 percent as negative. That was still a slight improvement, as 51 percent of U.S. respondents in 2011 saw China negatively. People in Latin America and Africa were even more disposed that Westerners to see China's influence as beneficial.
However, views of China were heavily based on its economic performance. Half of those who said they saw China's influence as positive said it was because of China's economy. Of those who said China's influence was negative, 30 percent also said it was due to the economy.
That means China's continued economic restructuring and its current attempts to promote domestic consumption could have additional international payoffs in the future -- if ultimately successful.
Views Of U.S. Did Not Improve, Japan Most Favored, Iran Least
Perceptions of the U.S. have not changed significantly, thought there was a slight dip in its reputation since 2011. 47 percent of people surveyed internationally said it was a force for good, 33 percent saw it in a poor light. Brazil, France, Kenya, and South Korea were the countries that most saw the U.S. in a positive light in their respective continents. Only 29 percent of Chinese saw the U.S. as a positive influence; 48 percent were negative. Pakistan's views of U.S. were overwhelmingly negative (61 percent to only 12 positive). Negative views also outweighed positives in Russia, Egypt, and Germany.
Japan overtook Germany as the most positively viewed nation in world, while the most negatively viewed countries were Iran and Pakistan. Half of respondents saw Israel being just as negative as North Korea.
However, people in Israel, Iran, and North Korea were not themselves surveyed. The poll may also be skewed against the EU since respondents would have accounted for economic troubles in Europan countries such as Greece, Portugal, and Italy, which were not polled themselves.
Uncertainty In Asia
In additional cautionary note for Asian states, even as views of Asia improved in other regions, in the region itself neighbors were suspicious of one another. That means the areas being looked to as the leading drivers of the future global economy are still rife with mutual distrust.
China's image suffered with its own Northeast Asian neighbors and amongst other BRIC countries from 2011 to 2012. 64 percent of South Koreans saw China as negative, only 33 percent seeing it as a force for good. In Japan 50 percent were critical of China; only 10 percent favored it. The perception of China fell dramatically in these two nations over the past year: in South Korea by 11 percentage points, in Japan 40 percentage points.
Foreign analysts will point to China's support for North Korea, its maritime disputes with neighbors, and its continued military growth, as leading factors for its declining reputation with other East Asian states.
Brazilians who held positive opinions of China also fell from 55 to 48 percent, and in Russia, China supporters fell from 52 to 46 percent.
Chinese and Koreans did not share global opinions about Japan. That is unsurprising considering historical animosities between them and Tokyo, as well as their maritime disputes with Japan; Chinese and South Koreans continue to hold resentment against Japan for its miltiary aggression in World War II. Only 16 and 38 percent in those respective countries had good views of Japan, while 63 percent in China and 58 percent in South Korea saw their eastern neighbor negatively. While more than half of Chinese held South Korea in good regard, more than a quarter was wary; 52 and 28 respectively. Only 34 percent of Japanese approved of South Korea over the past year, 16 percent had a negative view.
If the India-China-U.S. nexus will come to define the future of international relations, significant portions of their populations remain unconvinced that the others represented a force for good in the world. Indians were roughly split, 30 percent seeing China as positive, 31 percent as negative; 37 percent favored the U.S., while 23 percent disapproved of it. Only 35 percent of Chinese approved of their southern neighbor, while 40 percent viewed India negatively. But in its fellow democracy, 56 percent of the U.S. saw India positively, while only 26 saw it negatively.