Pew Global Research released the results of its “Balance of Power” survey, and it contains a lot of interesting data about what the world thinks about China. On the whole, impressions of China are positive: A slight majority views its still-impressive economic growth as a net positive for their own country, and those countries where China’s engagement has been most conspicuous -- such as in sub-Saharan Africa -- are particularly positive.
But the Pew data also contains information that may be cause for concern within Beijing: China’s Asian neighbors have become wary of the country’s influence in the region. Of the 10 Asian countries surveyed (excluding China itself), only two -- Pakistan and Malaysia -- view China, not the United States, as their principal ally.
For a Chinese government that has invested billions in promoting its soft power -- a measurement of a country’s influence beyond basic economic and military strength -- this news isn’t welcome. But neither is it surprising: China’s aggressive pursuit of territorial claims in the South and East China Sea have put Beijing at odds with several of its neighbors, particularly Japan and Vietnam. A majority in each country surveyed expressed strong concerns about territorial disputes with China.
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Of course, the Chinese government has other concerns than mere global popularity. Beijing has stated that it views its maritime claims as core national interests. So the question remains: Can China be both popular and powerful at the same time?