PETALING JAYA: A total of 70% of Malaysians have a favourable impression of China, with 67% feeling that the Malaysia-China relationship is heading in the right direction, according to a public opinion survey commissioned by Universiti Malaya (UM).
The survey of 1,109 people aged 21 and above also shows that 57% of respondents have a better impression of China after visiting mainland China, with 63% Malay/Muslim bumiputra and 56% of non-Malays coming back feeling good about the country.
The survey, conducted from April 12 to 27, was commissioned by Dr Ngeow Chow Bing, deputy director of UM’s Institute of China Studies.
The results were released by him on Aug 17 at an international conference “Towards a diamond era of Asean-China relations”.
“The survey results generally show that Malaysians now are supportive of the Government’s policy to maintain close and good relations with China amid the latter’s rising international influence,” Ngeow told The Star.
“For our Government, this survey is important as it shows that the people are supporting its China policies. It also shows why people are pro-China at this juncture.”
But he opined people’s reactions could change with time and developments, and hence such surveys would have to be conducted more often.
While presenting results of the survey, Dr Ngeow said: “The survey results are consistent with previous surveys carried out by international research firms. Our survey shows there is not much racial divide in terms of pro-China stance among Malaysians.”
The single most important question in the survey posed to respondents was: “How would you describe your overall impression of China as a country?”
From both Malays and Chinese, “favourable” reply hit 69%, while for Indians it was 81%, for Muslim bumiputra 73% and for non-Muslim bumiputra 60%.
Overall, the “favourable” impression of China averaged at 70% and “unfavourable” was 22%.
While 67% of respondents saw the relationship with China as heading in the right direction, 22% thought it was going the wrong way.
As an economic power, China was viewed by 45% of respondents as “an advantage” to Malaysia, while 15% saw it as “potential threat” and 6% as “a serious threat”. Those with neutral stand stood at 19%.
However, 79% of Malaysians had not heard of the Chinese government’s One Belt One Road initiative to promote regional economic cooperation, according to the survey. Only 19% had heard of this initiative.
The other significant question was: “How do you view China’s emergence as a military power: is it a serious threat to Malaysia, potential threat, neutral country or a potential ally of Malaysia?”
To this question, 28% of respondents viewed China as a potential ally, 22% as a neutral country, 20% as a potential threat and 7% as a serious threat.
But only 38% of the respondents were aware and knew about the conflicts and developments in the South China Sea. And those who were not aware totalled 56%.
But more (45%) viewed the territorial claims of China over South China Sea as a threat, while 33% saw no threat in it.
Among the respondents, more disagreed with the involvement of the United States and Japan in the South China Sea.
In terms of international image, China stood out better compared with the United States and India, but lost out to Japan in the survey.
The survey, conducted by Merdeka Center, covered all polling districts in Malaysia and respondents were selected through random sampling along the lines of ethnicity, gender, age and polling districts.
Along ethnic lines, 50% surveyed were Malays and another 50% non-Malays. And along gender lines, half were male and the other half female. While 50% of respondents were aged 21-40, the balance was above 41.
Respondents covered people in the private sector, business, at home, government and government-linked corporations, retirees, students and unemployed.