the good information project

New poll shows deep distrust of Chinese government among Irish public

The Ireland Thinks poll also found that 65% of respondents said they either distrust or strongly distrust the British government.

AROUND 84% OF people in Ireland say they either distrust or strongly distrust the Chinese government, according to the latest Ireland Thinks opinion poll carried out on behalf of The Journal

Nearly 60% of those surveyed believe the People’s Republic will also be the most powerful country in twenty years time. 

The Journal’s Good Information Project is discussing China and how Ireland relates to one of the biggest economies in the world this month. We teamed up with Ireland Thinks to explore this issue with a representative panel of the public. 

The polling was carried out after a year in which China has appeared frequently in news stories in Ireland over its response to the pandemic, particularly over the accuracy and secrecy of its approach. 

The country quickly contained the virus, despite having much less warning or precedent for what was about to unfold, while the rest of the world continued to battle with it for over a year. 

It did this using extremely strong controls over its population, while at the same time focusing on not losing out economically – while all major economies contracted, China’s GDP grew by 5%.

Rising powers 

Ireland Thinks asked the public which state or entity they believed to be the most powerful.

While the public are relatively evenly split between the United States (35%) and China (41%) today, the most common view is that China will be the lead power in twenty years’ time with 58% believing this to be the case.

When it came to the European Union, 11% of people said it was the leading entity today and will be in the next 20 years. Likewise, Russia polled at 7% in both questions. 

While academic consensus suggests that the United States is still the world leader in economic, military and social influence, it is not entirely unrealistic to expect that to change.

Since 1984, per capita incomes in China have increased almost thirty times and current projections by Nomura suggest that in terms of GDP the country will overtake the United States in just seven years from now.

“China is well on track to accomplish its 2nd centennial goal to finish building a modern socialist country in 2049,” the Chinese Embassy in Ireland said in response to the poll findings. 

“China is now the second-largest economy in the world. Over the past four decades, 750 million Chinese have been lifted out of poverty, contributing over 70% to the world’s poverty alleviation.”

An embassy spokesperson said that China still has a long journey to go in respect of economic development: ”China is a developing country with over 1.4 billion population, with its per capita GDP slightly over 10,000 USD, which is only one-fourth that of the EU. Inadequate and regional imbalanced development is a major problem faced by China.”

But how do Irish people feel about this economic development? As the next chart reveals, rather negatively.

Four of the top five most common words associated with this development are: “Worrying”, “Scary”, “Dangerous”, and “Frightening”.

We divided this up according to the respondents – favourable, neutral or unfavourable – view of China.

More on the specifics of that later, but what the chart shows is that among those with a neutral or favourable view of China more generally, there is a sense that the rise is “Inevitable” and “Expected” but also “Strong”, “Impressive” and “Powerful”.

There is an entire field of international relations that is concerned with these developments. Some of which, the ‘realists’, would attest to these concerns.

They believe that the actions of nation-states are inherently selfish. That even the institutions that maintain order such as the UN, the IMF, the World Bank are uncontested institutions as they are structured to sustain the dominance of the leading superpower.

They identify with the idea that peace is only preserved when there is an imbalance of capabilities between superpowers. They argue that a more even distribution of capabilities tends to bring about a conflict as exemplified by the series of wars between competing great powers between the 16th and 18th centuries.

Either way, as the next chart shows relative to other countries and entities there is a deep distrust of the Chinese Government with 84% stating that they either distrust or strongly distrust the Chinese government.

Comparatively, 65% of respondents said they either distrust or strongly distrust the British government while 32% said the same for the US government. 

The European Union had the highest level of trust with 58% stating that they either trust or strongly trust the bloc.

Our previous question also highlighted some reasons as to why this might be.

Comments around the country’s authoritarian dimension appeared quite frequently as did assertions about the human rights issues.

While not particularly favourable, it is notable that this distrust of the Chinese government (84%) significantly outstrips the extent to which the public regards China unfavourably (54%).

The final chart shows the extent to which the public had a favourable or unfavourable view of China.

The Chinese Embassy in Ireland said that the Chinese government enjoys a high rate of satisfaction among Chinese people (95.5%), quoting the results of a long term study from Harvard University which spanned 13 years. 

This data is consistent with other larger-scale polls conducted in China - here and here -  that have found high levels of satisfaction with the CCP administration.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating. In Chinese, there is a similar saying that ‘only the wearer of the shoes knows if they fit or not’,” an Embassy spokesperson added. 

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work is the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

Kevin Cunningham and Adam Daly
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