- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) — Strikingly large numbers of Chinese are happy with their nation’s direction and booming economy, and yet are deeply worried about rising prices, pollution and the gap between the rich and poor, according to a poll released Tuesday.

Two-thirds of Chinese also give their government high marks for handling important problems, the survey by the Pew Research Center said. Three of four approve of Beijing’s policy of limiting most couples to one child, though it’s more popular with well-off than lower-income people.

The findings contrast sharply with recent polling in the U.S. showing large majorities of Americans holding starkly negative views about their country’s direction, its leaders in the White House and Congress, and economic conditions.

The Pew survey found overwhelming Chinese optimism about the Olympics, to be held in Beijing next month.

At least nine of 10 Chinese surveyed said they think the Summer Games will be successful and predicted the event will help China’s image globally. Eight of 10 expressed personal interest in the games, though a third said too much attention was being paid to them.

The poll focused disproportionately on Chinese in urban areas, leaving large swaths of the country underrepresented. Though urban Chinese are far more affluent than those from the countryside, rural incomes have been growing lately.

Eighty-six percent of Chinese 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 polls have measured in 24 countries this year. A distant second was Australia, where six of 10 are satisfied with their country’s direction and seven of 10 like its economy.

While most Chinese said they were happy with how the government handles problems important to them, smaller majorities of low-income people and those from the less prosperous central and western part of the country said so.

Ninety-six percent of Chinese 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.

Three in four cited corrupt officials and air pollution as big problems; two-thirds named unemployment and water pollution; and solid majorities listed corrupt business people, crime and working conditions.

In addition, three-quarters think China is liked abroad, though it is viewed positively in only seven of 23 other countries Pew surveyed. About half view the U.S. unfavorably, including a third who see it as an enemy.

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