China’s “top” global threat: the power of the 19%

When reading the article behind the Climate Change Quiz page of previous post, I came across a link to another article from pew with the catching title: Climate Change Seen as Top Global Threat. It seems to go back to the same survey that was used for the quiz (Spring 2015 Pew Global Attitudes Survey) and took place from March 25 to May 27, 2015. While the quiz was based on three questions from that survey on climate change, this “global threat” article was based on specifically those who said that they are “very concerned” about some threat, amongst which climate change is one.

My first thought when I saw what the other threats were: these are not all “global” threats. I don’t think that for example “Territorial disputes with China” qualifies as something “global”. But never mind, maybe it is used as something that is considered as a threat “globally”?

So I looked at their nice visualization of those “top” “global” threats:

That is not exactly “global” either!

First, there are quite some white, unsurveyed, areas on that map (about 1/4 of the population not taken into account). Second, none of those issues were “globally” considered as a threat. The only thing one could say is that there were more countries colored blue than any other color.

But then I spotted the giant elephant in the room and slowly started to understand what was exactly meant by “top” threat: among the countries that were “very concerned” about Climate Change was … China.



My first reaction was to look at the percentage of respondents that put Climate Change in their “very concerned” list. This is what happens when we sort the countries by their concern about Climate Change:

Pew Global Global Global Threats: Climate Change Source:

Pew Global Global Global Threats: Climate Change Source:

Climate Change is apparently not considered a “top threat” in China…

China is THIRD LAST on that list with a miserable 19% of those who were very concerned about Climate Change. The reason why Climate Change was considered the “top threat” in China, is not because a majority of the Chinese is very concerned about it, but there wasn’t another issue that got a share as big as Climate Change. One can take any other threat and China will be somewhere in the last four. Maybe the biggest threat(s) for the Chinese were not among the threats proposed by pew? Or the Chinese perceive no big “global” threats at this moment? Whatever the case, the “very concerned” group was actually a minority. It was just that 19% that colored China blue on that map, while ignoring that 81% of the Chinese WEREN’T very concerned about climate change.

In the end, the same survey is used to build the perception that climate change is globally considered a top threat (including in China), but it is also used to prove that China is one of the countries that is least concerned about climate change.

4 thoughts on “China’s “top” global threat: the power of the 19%

  1. manicbeancounter

    Well spotted. It seems the Chinese are not very concerned about issues outside their borders. Given that it is a huge country where their opinion is often asked for, this is not surprising. It looks like the question in the last column – “Territorial Disputes with China” was not asked in China. With disputes with Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and over the Spratly Islands (International Waters) there could be considerable numbers in China who might be concerned.
    If the poll was conducted this week “Global Economic Instability” would figure higher given the current turmoil on the Chinese stock markets and economic slowdown in China.


    1. trustyetverify Post author

      That’s correct. Not all questions were asked in all countries. The question of concern about “Tensions between Russia and its neighbors” was not asked in Russia and the question of concern about “Territorial Disputes with China” was not asked in China. That might or might not be a game changer, but whatever the case, it would still be a local threat, not a global one.

      I certainly agree that the time of surveying could influence the results. When the same question was asked only five years ago, a whopping 41% of the respondents answered that they were very concerned about global climate change…


    1. trustyetverify Post author

      I can understand that the Chinese are optimistic. China is a country in development and they are significantly increasing the living standards of their inhabitants.

      On the other hand I have a little bit of experience working with Chinese people (mostly students), I also know that a “yes” is not necessarily an agreement or a confirmation in the Western sense. So I am rather cautious to interpret the result of a survey on the opinion of the Chinese people. There are quite some cultural and social differences.

      Something that I don’t really like in this survey is the sentence “41% of Chinese internet users say”. That group of internet users is a subset of the population that may or may not be representative for the entire Chinese population. Additionally, internet in China is monitored/restricted and expression of opinions is not exactly free.

      Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely think the Chinese are optimistic and I could even imagine that they wouldn’t have much “global” concerns. But while I am not surprised with the result that they are more optimistic, I do wonder how much these factors helped a hand in getting such a high figure.



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