Indians trust Putin more than Xi as a global leader, reflecting China distrust: Pew survey

India is the only middle-income country among seven surveyed where a majority – 67 per cent – have an unfavourable view of China, according to the survey.

Nirmala Ganapathy

Nirmala Ganapathy

The Straits Times


Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking virtually during the Brics summit in Johannesburg on Aug 23. PHOTO: REUTERS/THE STRAITS TIMES

August 30, 2023

NEW DELHI – Indians have more faith in Russian President Vladimir Putin than Chinese President Xi Jinping to do the right thing in global affairs, according to a new Pew Research Centre survey, reflecting the deep distrust of China within India.

Pew Research, which surveyed 2,611 Indian adults between March 25 and May 11, said that while Indians “stand out for their positive evaluations” of the United States and Russia, they are notably more critical of China.

India is the only middle-income country among seven surveyed where a majority – 67 per cent – have an unfavourable view of China, according to the survey. The seven countries included Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia.

The percentage of Indians who think China does not take their country’s interest into account went up from 28 per cent in 2013 to 58 per cent in 2023.

The survey listed border tensions between the two countries as one reason for the distrust, which was also reflected in Indian views towards the Chinese President. About 48 per cent of Indians have no confidence in Mr Xi to do the right thing in world affairs.

“Increasingly negative views of China and its leader are accompanied by increased scepticism that China takes Indian interests into account when making foreign-policy decisions,” said the survey.

India and China have a longstanding border row that recently flared up, contributing to a downturn in ties, while India and Russia have longstanding ties dating back to the Cold War era, with energy cooperation deepening since the outbreak of the Ukraine war.

China has been facing a backlash within India since a 2020 deadly clash along the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border, in which 20 Indians and four Chinese soldiers lost their lives.

The incident triggered tensions along the border, with troops facing off at several points. While the troops have pulled back from confrontation at most points, military talks are still on to disengage in some remaining areas.

Indians have the opposite view of the US, with two-thirds of adults holding a favourable view of the Western superpower. Seven in 10 say the US contributes to world peace.

At the same time, roughly two-thirds of adults in India say the US interferes in the affairs of other countries.

Analysts noted that India has been drawing closer to the US amid shared concerns over the rise of China.

“The survey reflects the broad place where Indian public opinion and state policy is with the US. There has been a steady improvement of bilateral relations. It is increasingly felt in public opinion. It reflects the changing and deepening partnership between the two countries,” said Professor C. Raja Mohan, a visiting research professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies.

“The opposite is true in the case of China. A decade ago, things were improving with China. Under Xi Jinping’s assertive policies, there has been a steady downward drift. There is a deterioration (within India) of the perception of China.”

The survey found that President Putin, who has been facing heavy criticism for the Ukraine war from the West and other countries, has many supporters in India. Many of them believe that Russia’s global influence has strengthened, with about four in 10 saying that its influence in the world has been getting stronger in recent years.

Pew Research found that out of 24 countries surveyed, only India had a majority of respondents saying they have a favourable opinion of Russia and have confidence in Mr Putin.

India and Russia have a strong defence cooperation, with 60 per cent of Indian weaponry of Russian vintage. Since the outbreak of the Ukraine war, India has also been the recipient of discounted Russian oil.

Professor Srikanth Kondapalli of Jawaharlal Nehru University said Russia is seen as a country that has helped India in tough times since the Cold War era, including in sharing military technology.

“I think the positive view of Putin is because of our military dependence, and Russia has helped India in many areas, including during a time when the US did not,” he noted.

The survey also found that Indian adults are more likely to believe India’s power is on the rise. Around seven in 10 believe their country has recently become more influential.

Eight in 10 report favourable views of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, including a majority of 55 per cent with a very favourable view of him. The remaining 20 per cent have an unfavourable opinion of Mr Modi in 2023.

Pew Research also polled 30,861 adults in 24 countries, including France, Japan, South Korea, Britain, Australia, Israel and Indonesia, between Feb 20 and May 22 for their views on India on the global stage.

A median of 37 per cent in 12 countries say they have confidence in Mr Modi to do the right thing in world affairs, while 40 per cent express a lack of confidence.

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