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Sept. 29, 2022
Notes from the Pentagon

U.S. public sours on Xi and China, poll shows

By Bill Gertz
U.S. public opinion of China has turned sharply negative since President Xi Jinping came to power, with 82% of Americans now holding unfavorable views of the Chinese communist state and its leader, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center.

By contrast, those holding unfavorable views of China stood at 47% in 2018, the center said in poll results made public Wednesday. A total of 83% of poll respondents said they had no confidence in Mr. Xi.

“The Chinese Communist Party is preparing for its 20th National Congress, an event likely to result in an unprecedented third term for President Xi Jinping,” the center said in announcing the results Wednesday. “Since Xi took office in 2013, opinion of China in the U.S. and other advanced economies has turned precipitously more negative.”

The poll also found that 67% of those surveyed regard China’s power and influence as a mounting threat. That is an increase of 23 percentage points since the question was first asked in polling in 2013.

China’s militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea, Beijing’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the trade war during the Trump administration and China’s human rights abuses were cited as reasons for the growing dislike of the Chinese regime.

“A large majority of Americans see China unfavorably amid concerns about China’s policies on human rights, its partnership with Russia and other factors,” the center stated. “Views of China continue to be broadly negative as Americans view multiple issues in the bilateral relationship as very serious problems for the U.S.”

A total of just 16% of those polled said they hold favorable views of Beijing. The Pew poll was based on surveys of 1,897 Americans’ views of China between March 2020 and March 2022.

Negative views of China and Mr. Xi are not limited to Americans. More than 80% of those polled in Australia, South Korea and Japan also reported disliking the Chinese regime.

An estimated 80% of South Koreans said they disliked China, based on Beijing’s response to the pandemic and economic retribution targeting Seoul for its decision in 2017 to deploy U.S. THAAD anti-missile systems.

Negative views among Japanese have been longstanding, based on historical factors and China’s clashes with Japan over the disputed Senkaku Islands. A total of 87% of the Japanese polled hold unfavorable views of China.

Australian public opinion toward China was found by Pew to be 86% negative.

Views of Mr. Xi, who is expected to be appointed to a third five-year term as president and head of the Communist Party next month, were very negative in the Pew poll. Respondents specifically noted Mr. Xi’s global ambitions: “Their leader seems to be on a path to try to control too much of the world,” an Australian told the pollsters.

“China is an autocratic dictatorship led by a tyrant, Xi Jinping; the Chinese Communist Party is an amoral kleptocracy interested only in its own survival and not at all concerned with the welfare of its citizens,” said a U.S. man.

The center said that polling data from the United States and Australia suggests the antipathy was directed China’s leaders and government and not the Chinese people. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo initiated a new policy during the Trump administration that sought to clearly distinguish between China’s 1.4 billion people and the ruling Chinese Communist Party, with a membership estimated to be around 95 million.

“The CCP hates the United States because they are paranoid that the Chinese people will be inspired by the example of American freedom, the world’s oldest and most influential democracy,” Mr. Pompeo said in a recent broadcast aimed at reaching the Chinese people from the Hudson Institute’s China Center.

Bankers testify on business with China after Taiwan invasion
Leaders of America’s largest banks voiced conciliatory views of China at a House hearing last week and stopped short of condemning Beijing for its recent behavior ranging from threatening Taiwan to repressive policies against the minority Uyghurs.

Asked by Rep. Lance Gooden, Texas Republican, if Citigroup would condemn human rights abuses carried out by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser replied: “’Condemn’ is a very strong word.”

Ms. Fraser said the bank takes any accusations of human rights abuses “very seriously” and would be “very vocal” in expressing the bank’s “distress” at such abuses.

Wall Street financial institutions have invested billions of dollars in China in recent years after its financial sector was opened to international investment. The largest U.S. banks had about $57 billion invested in China, Bloomberg reported.

The panel of top bankers told the House Financial Services Committee hearing they are not sure if their institutions would stop doing business in China should Beijing launch an attack on Taiwan.

The leaders of JPMorgan Chase and Co., U.S. Bancorp, Wells Fargo and Co., Trust Financial Corp., PNC Financial Services Group and Bank of America all said they would follow the lead of the U.S. government in abiding by any financial sanctions that might follow a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

“I think we’ll follow the government’s guidance, which has been for decades, to work with China,” said Bank of America Chairman Brian Moynihan. “And if they change that position, we’ll immediately change it, as we did in Russia.”

“Yeah, we would absolutely salute and follow whatever the American government said, which is what you want us to do,” said Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan chairman.

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, Missouri Republican, noted in the hearing that several banks went beyond the law in imposing what he said were politically correct policies at home. Citibank and Bank of America, for example, imposed lending restrictions on gun manufacturers, and JPMorgan in 2019 said it would not fund private prison companies.

“None these decisions were made because of a law passed by Congress,” Mr. Luetkemeyer said.

Asked if a Chinese military invasion of an American ally would be enough for JPMorgan to halt business with China, Mr. Dimon was noncommittal. “We’ll have to decide when that happens,” he said.

Mr. Moynihan and Ms. Fraser said they would do the same, and wait for the U.S. government to tell them whether or not to stop financial services with the Chinese.

Ms. Fraser said if the decision were left up to her company, the bank would have a reduced presence.

Bank of America regards China and the Communist Party regime as a client, Mr. Moynihan said.

“So the governmental condemnation isn’t the important thing of who we do business with,” he said. “China is actually the company that we underwrite, it’s ‘client selection,’ as we call it.”

Mr. Luetkemeyer replied that in China, the Chinese Communist Party is the government.

“We don’t do business with companies that we believe are doing atrocities,” Mr. Moynihan replied.

“You’re doing business under the auspices of this government, that’s my point,” Mr. Luetkemeyer said.

Xi resurfaces after coup rumors
Chinese President Xi Jinping reappeared on Chinese state television this week after several days of absence that triggered social media rumors of a coup. The rumors began on Chinese-language Twitter accounts on Sept. 22. Most said the Chinese leader was under house arrest and noted flight cancellations in China.

Within hours, the story went viral and was a trending topic on the social media platform. It was then picked up and reported on an Indian news outlet.

On Sept. 23, journalist Jennifer Zeng, a video blogger and member of the anti-communist religious group Falun Gong, reported on the coup rumors, further expanding its reach.

Mr. Xi had not been seen in public since returning from a summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on Sept. 16. Chinese state media later suggested the Chinese leader was out of sight during a routine pandemic quarantine following his return.

The rumors subsided quickly, and on Tuesday Mr. Xi was shown visiting a Beijing exhibition hall. He was joined by Premier Li Keqiang and other top leaders.

The speculation coincided with the sentencing of two senior Chinese intelligence and security officials on corruption charges.

Rumors are a key outlet for unofficial speech in China and often spread by leadership factions as a way to circumvent tightly controlled communist censorship.

Setting off rumors of a coup in China could also be used by an electronic intelligence service, either Eastern or Western, to collect valuable intelligence, analysts say. For example, sensational rumors of a leadership change in Beijing would likely prompt large numbers of crisis communications from governments around the world that could be gathered and deciphered by electronic spies.

Intercepting those communications would be valuable in monitoring the responses to a future crisis in the Taiwan Strait, South China Sea or East China Sea that would be valuable to military war planners.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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