What do people in China really think about their government? It’s usually hard to find out. The foundation set up by former US President Jimmy Carter has now undertaken such an attempt and asked Internet users in the People’s Republic about their attitude.

Is it right that China stands with Russia? How should Beijing support Russia’s president and his war? Such questions were presented to the people, with results that were partly to be expected, but also astonishing.

The processed results of the survey can be found on the US-China Perception Monitor website. Accordingly, when asked whether support for Russia was in China’s national interest, 75 percent of those surveyed answered yes, 35 percent of them emphatically (“strongly agree”). The stance of the Chinese government is thus supported by an overwhelming majority.

This is mainly due to the fact that the Chinese leadership describes the war in Ukraine as a proxy war between the USA and Russia. In this sense, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi holds the United States responsible for the escalation of the conflict, since they wanted to move the NATO border to Russia’s doorstep.

People were also asked how Beijing should support Russia: 61 percent rely on “moral support”, only 16 percent of the Chinese are in favor of arms deliveries to the Kremlin. The official Chinese course is also reflected here. Because Beijing has not promised Russia, which has gotten into trouble as a result of the sanctions, to receive any tangible economic and military aid. Rather, the leadership of the CP tries to neither support nor betray the sanctions at the same time. The fear of being subjected to sanctions in the end is too great. This would further weaken the Chinese economy already battered by the Covid pandemic.

For respondents, “moral support” also includes returning to the negotiating table. At the beginning of the war, official Chinese agencies had also promoted this, but never with the addition that the People’s Republic itself could act as a mediator. Nevertheless, 58 percent of those surveyed believed that China should shape the peace negotiations. For Beijing, this wish is tricky, since the conflict looks very similar to one of its own, namely that between the People’s Republic and Taiwan. Just as Putin wants to reunite “holy Russia”, Xi has issued the slogan “reunification of the nation”. According to Xi’s will, Taiwan is to be attacked and occupied “in our lifetime”.

Now the survey is entering another territory: she wants to know from the respondents whether they had heard of the theory that the Russian army had tracked down US bio laboratories in Ukraine. 49 percent of those surveyed knew the conspiracy theory, 51 did not. Of the 49 percent who overheard this claim from the Chinese internet, 72 percent believed the claim to be true. Of those who didn’t know them before, it was 51 percent. The affirmation of this thesis becomes more likely, the higher the level of education and the more government media is consumed. Women agree less with the conspiracy theory, older people more.

In recent years, the Communist leadership has done everything it can to discredit the free West, above all the USA, in order to present an enemy inside the country against which the ranks of the population, under the exclusive leadership of the Communist Party, should close.

The Chinese government has also circulated another “laboratory theory”, namely that the corona virus is said to have been cultivated in a laboratory in the USA. With these maneuvers from the outside, the CP denies its guilt for the outbreak and the spread of the pandemic. Especially now, with a number of other major Chinese cities in full or partial lockdown alongside Shanghai and Beijing, it is convenient for Xi and his clique to be able to blame the problem on an external enemy.

So there is a high degree of agreement with Beijing’s general course, but the people in China have a different view of the details than their government. It remains unclear whether this dissent is due to the fact that Beijing has not communicated to its own people that it does not want to play this role as mediator.

Dissent is frowned upon in China, so it’s all the more noticeable when it’s there. And he doesn’t stop at the power circles of the CP either: In an article for the magazine “International Politics and Society”, the Shanghai professor of international affairs, Wei Hu, writes that the best way for China to avoid supporting Russia’s war is indeed is a negotiated solution from which Putin can get the most out of it for his interests. This is where China would come into play as a mediator.

Observers see the fact that individuals are currently allowed to make critical statements about the government line abroad as an expression of a dispute over direction within the CP. Should the wing of the party that does not approve of Xi’s corona and Russia policies strengthen, things could get tight for the ruler at the CP General Assembly in the fall, where Xi is to be proclaimed president for the third time.