Chinese, US Attitudes Reflect ‘Hope and Fear’

While the Chinese and U.S. publics and elites hold generally favorable views of each other, distrust between them also persists, according to a new "mirror" survey of both countries released Monday.

The survey [.pdf], entitled "Hope & Fear: American and Chinese Attitudes Toward Each Other," found that a majority of U.S. citizens consider China’s growing economic power as at least a "potential threat" to U.S. interests, while Chinese were most concerned about Washington’s intentions regarding Taiwan and preventing their country from becoming a world power.

A majority of Chinese also believe their country will overtake Washington as the world’s leading superpower within the next 20 years, while only one in five U.S. citizens believe Beijing will reach that status. About half of the U.S. public believes Washington will retain its leading position, while less than one in four Chinese agree with that view.

The survey, which asked the same questions of respondents on a range of issues in both countries during August and September, was sponsored by the Committee of 100 (C-100), a non-governmental organization made up of Chinese-American leaders who broadly support engagement between the two countries. It was conducted by the Zogby International polling firm.

In addition to interviewing members of the general public, the survey also identified discrete groups of "opinion leaders" and "business leaders" in both countries, as well as "congressional staffers" in the U.S. who help determine elite opinion.

The survey’s release comes at a moment of relative stability in ties between the two nations, which have cooperated closely in recent years on such hot-button issues as North Korea’s nuclear program.

Despite the presence in the current administration of a number of "China hawks," including former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, President George W. Bush has, if anything, tried to solidify ties with Beijing over the last seven years.

Still, tensions have persisted. Washington has pushed hard for Beijing to address its huge bilateral trade deficit in part by devaluing the yuan and by stricter enforcement of intellectual property rights. It has also criticized China occasionally for not being more forthcoming about its military budget and strategic planning and for its relations with so-called "rogue" states, including Sudan, Burma, Iran, and Zimbabwe.

Beijing has its own complaints, including U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and Washington’s efforts to draw India, Japan, Vietnam, Australia, and other countries on the Chinese periphery into an informal geo-strategic alliance as a check to Beijing’s expanding military reach.

The survey found that publics in both nations hold mostly favorable views of each other, although negative impressions of China were more widespread in the U.S.

Sixty percent of Chinese respondents held generally favorable views of the U.S., while only one in five had an unfavorable view. In the U.S., the split was 52 percent favorable toward China; 45 percent, unfavorable.

The views of Chinese business and opinion leaders were significantly more positive about the U.S. than the public at large – up to 94 percent in the case of business leaders.

The views of their elite counterparts in the U.S., on the other hand, tended to be consistent with those of the U.S. public, with the exception of congressional staffers, only 35 percent of whom held favorable opinions of China, while 62 percent said their views were unfavorable.

Both publics considered the relationship with each other as among their most important. From a list of seven nations, Chinese respondents said the U.S. was Beijing’s most important partner; U.S. respondents ranked China as the third most important partner, behind Britain and Japan.

More than seven out of 10 respondents in both countries said they believed that bilateral trade benefits both economies, although enthusiasm was somewhat higher in China.

Still, about two out of three U.S. respondents said they believed China’s emergence as a global economic power represented either a "serious" or a "potential" threat to the U.S., while one in three said China’s emergence either represented no threat or that China should be seen as an "economic partner." Three in four U.S. respondents said they blame China for the loss of U.S. jobs, while the vast majority of Chinese respondents took a more benign view of their effect on the U.S. and the world economy.

U.S. respondents expressed similar concerns about the growing strength of Beijing’s military power – 75 percent said they saw it as either a "serious" or a "potential" threat. That was up from 66 percent who took that position in a C-100 survey taken two years ago.

Still, nearly two-thirds of U.S. respondents – compared to only one-third of Chinese respondents – agreed with the statement that Washington "accepts China’s status as a rising power and wants a collaborative relationship." One-third of U.S. respondents – and 45 percent of Chinese respondents – said they believe Washington is "trying to prevent China from becoming a great power."

If military hostilities resulted from a declaration of independence by Taiwan, 60 percent of U.S. respondents said Washington should not intervene, while nearly one-third supported intervention on Taiwan’s behalf. Only 11 percent of Chinese respondents supported achieving unification with Taiwan through military force; a majority or plurality of Chinese public and elite respondents expressed optimism that Taiwan’s status could be resolved peacefully.

Chinese respondents expressed greater concern than their U.S. counterparts over global warming. Nearly seven in 10 in China said they worried about climate change "a great deal" or a "fair amount," compared to about six in 10 U.S. respondents who took the same position.

Chinese respondents were far more optimistic than their U.S. counterparts about the state and direction of their nation. Nearly 90 percent of Chinese said they believe their country is on the "right track," while nearly 60 percent of U.S. respondents said they believed their country was on the "wrong track."

The survey found little confidence among respondents in both countries that the mass media of the other portrayed their own nation accurately. In addition, the survey found misperceptions among elites in both countries about the views of their publics toward each other.

Elites in the U.S. underestimate the favorable views of China held by the general public, while elites in China believe the views held by their compatriots of the U.S. are more favorable than they actually are.

(Inter Press Service)

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Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.