Only three out of 53 countries say US has handled coronavirus better than China

Survey reveals deep global dissatisfaction with US leadership under Donald Trump

China has beaten the US in the battle for world opinion over the handling of coronavirus, according to new polling, with only three countries out of 53 believing the US has dealt with the pandemic better than its superpower rival.

The survey comes ahead of a major conference on the future of democracy this week, due to be addressed by the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state John Kerry and the Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong. The conference is likely to be a rallying point for pro-democracy activists as China and the US enter an ever more explicit ideological contest.

The 53-country survey of 120,000 people by the German polling firm Dalia Research and the Alliance of Democracies Foundation, an organisation headed by the former Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, reveals deep dissatisfaction with US leadership.

The survey found electorates in Greece (89%), Taiwan (87%), Ireland (87%), South Korea, Australia and Denmark (all 86%) are happiest worldwide with the performance of their government in controlling the coronavirus. At the bottom end of the scale are Brazil, France, Italy, the US and the UK.

Only a third of people around the world said the US responded well to Covid-19, compared with more than 60% who said China’s response was good. In only three countries – Taiwan, the US and South Korea – do more people think the US has responded well to the pandemic than think China has responded well.

Reflecting Donald Trump’s unpopularity globally, only a third of Europeans believe the US is a positive force for global democracy, compared with half who say it has had a negative impact. The positive figure has fallen 4% since the same survey last year. Majorities in all 15 of the European countries surveyed say the US has a negative impact on global democracy, with the net negative score at -40% in Germany.

EU foreign ministers will meet on Monday to discuss how far to take a more sceptical approach to China. There is a reluctance to enlist in an all-out trade war, and concern that the US is due to implement a law that will require companies to certify that their entire global supply chain – not just the part of the business that sells to the US government – is devoid of equipment from Huawei, the telecoms company ZTE corps, and other Chinese companies.

This kind of measure has led to to a striking rise of anti-American feeling within China, the survey shows. The share of Chinese people who think the US has a negative influence on democracy around the world almost doubled since 2019 from 38% to 64% in 2020, moving China up to the top rank as the country most critical of the US.

Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister, said: “Covid-19 is also a litmus test for democracy. Democracy is still alive in the hearts and minds of people across the world, but this study highlights a disconnect between citizens and their governments. It should act as a wake-up call to democratic leaders that people want more democracy and freedom after Covid-19.”

Half of Americans and just over half of French, Italians and Belgians say their country is democratic. Every country surveyed shows a “democratic deficit” – a gap between the percentage who feel democracy is important and those who feel they live in a democratic country

The largest democratic deficits were recorded in Venezuela (50%), Poland (48%), Hungary (42%), Ukraine (39%) and Thailand (35%).

The Alliance of Democracies Foundation has previously conducted research on the extent of election meddling by authoritarian countries making recommendations on how social media companies could do more to shut down bots run by foreign governments.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, on Sunday ruled out a transatlantic alliance against China a day before talks with Pompeo, and called for a “big, positive agenda for EU-China cooperation”.

The meeting between Pompeo and EU foreign ministers is expected to focus on China and “disinformation”, and will be followed in a week’s time by the first EU-China summit under the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and European council president, Charles Michel. The two EU chiefs will meet the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, with the discussions expected to focus on market access.

Borrell said the EU would not pick a side in the US-China conflict. “Amid US-China tensions as the main axis of global politics, the pressure to ‘choose sides’ is increasing,” he said. “We as Europeans have to do it ‘my way’, with all the challenges this brings.”

He also admitted there were internal divisions within the EU with some wishing to follow a policy of equidistance between China and Europe, and others urging Europe to align with the US.

He said the transatlantic relationship remained vital for Europe – “the values we share form its bedrock” – but that it was strained by the Trump administration taking “unilateral decisions with which we do not always agree”.


Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The GuardianTramp

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