(CN) — A poll released Wednesday shows the American public is growing increasingly bellicose toward China, and trust Democrat Joe Biden to handle what they perceive as a growing threat more than President Donald Trump.
A Politico/Morning Consult poll showed the number of Americans who view China as “an enemy” is on the rise, up 11 points since January in a reflection the public grows more hostile even as the Asian superpower grows in international influence and economic power.
“This is a trend to watch,” Tyler Sinclair, vice president at Morning Consult, said of the numbers.
The increase could be partially attributable to Trump’s followers taking cues from the president in blaming China for its halting response to contain the novel coronavirus in late December as it began to spread through Wuhan.
Chinese authorities have been roundly and widely criticized for attempting to suppress information about the virus’s emergence and its virulence at the outset, when more immediate action may have prevented the ensuing pandemic that has so far killed over 326,000 and brought entire national economies to screeching halts.
In January, when Trump was still tweeting praise for his Chinese counterparts and praising President Xi Jinping for his response to the virus, the number of Americans willing to categorize China as an enemy stood at 20%. In Wednesday’s poll, the number climbed to 31%.
But Bonnie Glaser, a China expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, cautioned those who would base the increase in animosity toward China as solely derived from the coronavirus fallout.
“If you look at Pew polling, these trends were in place before the coronavirus,” she said.
In August 2019, Pew Research Center released a report that showed the American public’s views of China turned sharply negative, as the trade war and other issues percolated to the top of the news feed. A full 60% of the American public held an unfavorable view of China at the time, a then-record.
A more recent Pew poll released since the pandemic’s advent showed China’s unfavorability with the American public rise to 66% of respondents.
“There has been a lot of talk by President Trump, members of Congress and members of the media that has been very critical of China and Americans are exposed to all of this negative thinking,” Glaser said.
She further noted that rhetoric forwarded by Trump and other Republicans has not been qualified by any countervailing ideas put forward by Democrats.
“Joe Biden is positioning himself to the right of the president by saying I am going to be much tougher on China,” Glaser said.
So far, the American public has responded to that position.
Wednesday’s poll shows 43% of respondents trust Biden more to handle foreign policy, compared to 38% who trust Trump more. Furthermore, 40% said they trust Biden more to handle relations with China compared to about 38% who favor Trump.
Overall, Biden fared better on other notable polling questions, including 42% of respondents who favor the former vice president to handle the coronavirus containment compared to only 35% who favor Trump.
Nevertheless, Trump continues to get high marks for his attention to the economy, with 44% of the public trusting Trump to handle the economy compared to only 40% of respondents siding with Biden.
But the poll demonstrates that both candidates will likely look to ratchet up their rhetoric against China in the coming months with the general election on the horizon, a prospect that does not bode well for international relations in general, according to Glaser.
“I think we need to have a more effective bipartisan approach rather than seeing who can bash China harder,” Glaser said.
The rise of China presents many challenges aside from the coronavirus pandemic, including China’s support for repressive technology, its attempt to better the United States in producing strategic technologies for the future and its investment in disinformation techniques.
“I think China poses enormous challenges, but I would be careful using the word threats,” Glaser said.
Instead, the foreign policy analyst believes the United States must enlist its allies and prioritize what behavior it views as unacceptable from its growing rival. But Glaser also believes there is a range of issues where the interests of the two countries overlap.
“Confronting the global pandemic, the development of a vaccine, reinjecting growth into the global economy and climate change are certainly areas where America could bring China into the tent and work together,” Glaser said.