WASHINGTON -- After a year of tit-for-tat tariffs and bellicose rhetoric from President Donald Trump, American public opinion of China has turned sharply negative, with many more people now seeing the Asian country as the greatest threat to the future of the United States.
A survey by the Pew Research Center released Tuesday found that 60% of Americans hold an unfavorable view of China, up from 47% last year and the highest level since Pew began asking the question in 2005. The sharp increase was evident among Republicans and Democrats alike. A Gallup poll earlier this year showed a similar decline in American sentiments toward China.
The public's hardened attitudes on China reflect increased friction between the two nations, particularly over trade, and could make China -- and Trump's approach to it -- an issue in the 2020 election campaign. Many have questioned his tactics in levying tariffs off and on over the last year.
During his run for president in 2016, Trump frequently attacked China on trade, a message that resonated with blue-collar workers and may have broader appeal in 2020.
"He can capitalize on that," said Laura Silver, a senior researcher at Pew and an author of the survey report. Asked which country poses the greatest threat to the U.S., survey respondents named China and Russia in equal measure.
Yet even as many more Americans now see China in a bad light -- and Beijing's handling of the protests in Hong Kong certainly isn't helping -- that doesn't mean there's widening support for Trump's strategy or tactics on trade.
An earlier Pew survey showed that more Americans viewed increased tariffs as bad for the United States than good.
And Trump's move this month to heap more tariffs on China could backfire. Ending a short-lived cease-fire, he announced a new 10% punitive tax on $300 billion of Chinese goods to take effect Sept 1. That would be in addition to 25% duties already imposed on $250 billion of imports from China, and will be felt more directly by American consumers since the new tariffs would hit many more household products such as clothes, cellphones and computers.
But Tuesday morning, Trump's top trade official abruptly announced that many of the threatened tariffs would be delayed until Dec. 15, an acknowledgment of the pain they might cause to American shoppers.
Trump also officially labeled China a "currency manipulator" last week after Beijing allowed its yuan to fall in value, crossing 7 yuan to the dollar for the first time since 2008. Analysts don't think China intervened with its currency to gain an unfair edge in trade, but the threat of currency wars -- and Beijing's retaliatory move to suspend U.S. farm purchases after Trump's new tariffs -- has hammered financial markets and intensified fears of a global economic slowdown.