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Americans favor confronting China on human rights despite risk to economic ties, survey finds

FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags flutter outside the building of an American company in Beijing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – American attitudes toward China have soured significantly in the past three years, with 70% of those surveyed for a report published on Thursday saying Washington should stand up to Beijing over its human rights record even if it damages economic ties.

Nearly 9 in 10 respondents to a Pew Research Center survey of more than 2,500 Americans conducted in February said they saw China, the world’s second largest economy, as a competitor or enemy rather than a partner, the U.S.-based center said.

“Americans want more focus on human rights – even at the expense of economic ties – in bilateral relations with China,” the report said.

President Joe Biden’s administration, which took office in January, has singled out China as the “biggest geopolitical test” of this century, and endorsed a determination by the previous Trump administration that Beijing has committed genocide against minority Muslims.

It has also criticized China’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy movement and signaled it will maintain the Trump administration’s pressure on Beijing, albeit in coordination with allies.

The Pew survey suggested a slim majority of Americas, 53%, had confidence in Biden to effectively deal with China, lower than that for other global issues, such as terrorism, climate change, the use of military force, and managing trade.

Across the board, negative views in the United States toward China have grown sharply since 2018, with 67% of respondents holding “very cold” or “cold” views toward China compared to 46% three years ago. Just 11% of the Americans surveyed held warm sentiments toward the country.

Perceptions that China-sponsored cyberattacks and Beijing’s rights record were “very serious” problems jumped 7% since 2020 to 65% and 50%, respectively, the report said.

Majorities also saw U.S. job losses to China and the country’s growing military power as very serious problems, up 6% since last year to 53% and 52%.

U.S.-China ties plummeted to their lowest point in decades in former President Donald Trump’s final year in office, as Washington targeted Beijing over trade, the coronavirus outbreak, espionage, human rights, and Chinese territorial claims in the strategic South China Sea.

Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress have found common cause in confronting Beijing, with lawmakers proposing a barrage of China-related legislation.

A majority of Americans surveyed, 54%, said China had handled the coronavirus outbreak poorly. But even more – 58% – said their own country had also done a bad job.

(Reporting by Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom)

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