WASHINGTON — Overwhelming numbers of Chinese say next month’s Olympics will help their country’s tattered image abroad, and they predict the Beijing Games will be successful, according to a poll released Tuesday.
The survey, conducted this spring by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, comes as much of the international media’s pre-Olympics coverage has been a black eye for Beijing, focusing on attempts to clamp down on internal dissidents and diminish air and water pollution in time for the games.
The poll also found strikingly large numbers of Chinese are happy with their nation’s overall direction, booming economy and how its government is handling important problems. Yet most are deeply worried about rising prices, pollution and the gap between the rich and poor.
Ninety-three percent said they believe the Olympics will help China’s image around the globe. A similar number voiced confidence that the games will go well: 96 percent said their hosting of the Aug. 8-24 competition will be successful.
In both cases, the optimism was shared by people of all ages and income groups, and men and women alike.
The findings point to a divergence between the Chinese sense of their image overseas and how foreigners view them. In the new poll, three-quarters of Chinese believe their country is liked abroad. Yet of 23 other countries where Pew has polled this year, China is viewed positively in only seven.
There was a wave of anti-Western sentiment in China this spring after the Olympic torch relay was beset by protests in Europe and the U.S. of Beijing’s crackdown on dissenters in Tibet and other issues.
About half of Chinese view the U.S. unfavorably, including a third who see it as an enemy, the poll said. Seven in 10 have negative views of Japan, including nearly four in 10 who view it as an enemy. China has long-standing, and at times bitter, political and economic rivalries with both countries.
Eight in 10 Chinese said the Olympics were personally important to them, an enthusiasm that was slightly higher for Beijing residents than for those living elsewhere. At the same time, one in three said too much attention is being paid to the games, up from the one quarter who said so in a poll Pew conducted two years ago.
Highlighting the country’s high hopes, 75 percent said they think Chinese athletes will win the most medals, with 15 percent choosing the U.S. and 3 percent Russia. China won the third most medals in 2004, trailing the United States and Russia.
On broader issues, 86 percent of Chinese said they were satisfied with the country’s direction and 82 percent called its economy good. That was a huge jump from a 2002 Pew survey, when about half were satisfied with each.
It was also the most contentment that Pew measured in all 24 countries it surveyed this year. Australia was a distant second.
Two-thirds of Chinese also gave their government high marks for handling important problems. Three of four approved of Beijing’s policy of limiting most couples to one child, although it’s more popular with well-off than lower-income people.
Virtually all said rising prices are a big problem — including 72 percent who called them a very big concern. Eighty-nine percent said the gulf between rich and poor people was a great worry.