China has now overtaken the United States as the greatest perceived threat to global stability in the eyes of Europeans, according to the opinion poll commissioned by the Financial Times.
The poll, carried out by the Harris agency between March 27 and April 8 and published on Tuesday, found that 35 percent of respondents in the five largest EU states see China as a bigger threat to world stability than any other state. Last year, that figure was 19 percent, and in 2006 it was only 12 percent. In contrast, the US has slipped back into second place, with 29 percent of the respondents viewing it as the biggest threat, down from 32 percent in 2007.
The poll was carried out in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom shortly after the brutal suppression of the unrest in Tibet in mid-March. Many of the respondents would have seen images of subsequent protests against the Olympic torch relay.
The transformation of China's image from a land of economic opportunities to one of global threat is seen largely as a result of the Western media coverage of the Asian economic power. "The profile has changed," Mark Leonard from the European Council on Foreign Relations told the Financial Times. "The story of the last five years has been about economic opportunities. The story of the last six months has been about China as a threat in Darfur and in Tibet."
Leonard pointed out that Europeans only glean their information about China from the news coverage, which has recently been unfavorable, whereas their view of the US is also based on their exposure to American popular culture.
On Tuesday, there was yet another piece of bad press for China as Amnesty International named China the biggest perpetrator of capital punishment in the world in its latest report on the death penalty.
China put at least 470 people to death last year, Amnesty reported, with Iran coming in a close second with 377 executions in 2007. Although China has actually seen a reduction in death sentences after it reintroduced a review by its top court in all capital cases, Amnesty says that the number of executions may be far higher than the figure of 470.
Death penalty figures in China are treated as a state secret and Amnesty only used the most reliable sources to come to its minimum figure. The US-based Dui Hua Foundation, for example, which researches conditions in Chinese prisons, has said it estimates that around 6,000 people were actually executed in China last year.
Piers Bannister, a researcher with Amnesty, told the Associated Press, that the report was a "challenge to China to end the secrecy" surrounding the death penalty.
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