East does not meet West on China's self-image

John Garnaut in Beijing
July 24, 2008

CHINESE people are overwhelmingly satisfied with the direction of their country, a Pew Centre survey published yesterday shows.

The survey results, which rank China first among 24 nations, point to an enormous gulf between domestic and Western perceptions of China that has widened in the aftermath of the Tibet riots and troubled Olympic torch relay. China's country satisfaction rating soared to 86 per cent from 48 per cent in 2002.

Analysts said the results should not be dismissed merely as Chinese people saying what the Government wanted them to say.

"Even if you take away 10, 15 per cent for that kind of bias you still have a very strong result," said Susan Shirk, a professor of political science at the University of California and a former deputy assistant secretary for China in the US State Department.

The results are a vote of confidence in the administration of the President, Hu Jintao, and the Premier, Wen Jiabao.

The Pew survey is an important source of political information because China does not have democratic elections, opinion poll surveys or free media reporting on political issues.

It was conducted after the Tibet riots in March but before the Sichuan earthquake in May - both of which generated an increase in patriotism across mainstream China.

The survey shows China is not without its political and economic problems.

Inflation topped the list of national concerns, with 96 per cent of people identifying prices as a big or moderately big problem, followed by China's enormous rich-poor gap, official corruption and air pollution and unemployment. People in the poor areas of central and western China were less satisfied than those in the richer eastern provinces. While seven in 10 respondents said they were better off in a free-market economy, six in 10 said they worried about a loss of tradition.

China's propaganda and security response to the Tibet riots has contributed to a sudden and significant loss of global goodwill this year. Extreme security measures surrounding the Olympics are exacerbating the international perception problem.

While many Western politicians and analysts believe next month's Olympic Games have been tarnished, 96 per cent of Chinese people said they thought the Olympics would be a success.

Remarkably, 93 per cent of Chinese people said they thought the Olympics would help China's image around the world.

Only 3 per cent of Chinese said China is hurting other countries.

The survey found that Chinese consider Australia to be the best migration destination to lead a good life - preferred by 22 per cent of people - well ahead of Canada and the US.

When questioned about their personal lives, Chinese people said they were less satisfied than respondents in most other other countries.