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Survey of American and Chinese opinion: Hope and Fear

The Committee of 100, a Chinese American organization, released the results of surveys conducted in the U.S. and China in August and September. Views on Taiwan show the greatest divergence. Americans give the U.S. government low marks on handling the U.S.-China relationship. Chinese generally have a favorable impression of the U.S.
December 13, 2007

A new survey shows that hope and fear dominate American and Chinese impressions of each other. The survey was sponsored by a Chinese American group, the Committee of 100, and utilized data gathered by Zogby International (US) and Horizon Research (China) in August and September 2007. The survey builds upon one conducted in the U.S. in 2005. The Committee of 100 timed the Dec. 10, 2007 release to come just before the opening of the third round of talks in the U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue. Here are the survey's basic findings. The complete report is available via the link below.

1. Overall Impressions
A majority of the American general public (52%), opinion leaders (56%), and business leaders (54%) had a favorable impression of China. Only 35% of Congressional staffers had a favorable impression. Poorer Americans had a more favorable impression than middle and high income Americans. Fewer than half of the whites, Southerners, and women surveyed had a favorable impression of China.

Chinese had a much more favorable impression of the U.S. than Americans did of China. Large majorities of the general public (60%), opinion leaders (86%), and business leaders (94%) said they had a favorable impression of the U.S. Urban Chinese were much more likely (79%) than rural Chinese (53%) to have a favorable impression of the U.S. Chinese between 18 and 29 had the most positive impression of the U.S. of any age group. 74% of Chinese Communist Party members had a favorable impression of the U.S., compared to 60% of non-Party members.

Asked if they would approve of their child marrying a Chinese, most Americans said yes (general public 80%, opinion leaders 86%, and business leaders 90%). Chinese respondents were less certain they would approve of their child marrying an American (general public 45%, opinion leaders 53%, business leaders 74%).

Majorities in both countries feel the cultural impact of the other country on their own has been positive. People aged 18-29 were much more likely to believe this than those in other age groups. Those who have visited the other country were more inclined to have a favorable impression of it.

2. China's Rise and U.S.-China Relations
Most Americans believe China's grown more influential globally over the past ten years. Only a third of the Chinese surveyed believe the U.S.'s influence has grown during that period. Asked who they thought would be the leading superpower 20 years from now, most Americans said the U.S. and about one in five said China. A majority of China's general public (55%) and business leaders (53%) said China would be the leading superpower. Only 31% of China's opinion leaders felt that. With regard to East Asia, most Chinese and most U.S. opinion and business leaders expected China to have the greatest influence in East Asia.

A majority of Americans think that China is a serious or potential threat to the U.S. Congressional staffers were most inclined to think this (19% saw China as a serious threat, 68% saw it as a potential threat). A majority of Americans see China as a serious or potential economic threat to the U.S. Most Chinese do not see China in those terms.

Asked if the other was an important partner, most Americans said China was an important partner. This was especially true of Congressional staffers, where 82% said China was an important partner. Nearly all Chinese opinion and business leaders and nearly two-thirds of the Chinese general public felt this way about the U.S. Nearly as many Chinese rated Russia as an important partner. Americans overall, however, rated England and Japan ahead of China as an important partner.

Most Americans felt the U.S. government's handling of the relationship with China was fair or poor.  About one-third felt the government had done an excellent or good job in handling the relationship. Most Chinese, however, gave their government good marks in handling the relationship with the Chinese. About 70% of Americans felt the Chinese government had done a fair or poor job in handling the U.S.-China relationship. Most Chinese felt the U.S. government had done a fair or poor job.

3. Common Issues
For Americans, the most pressing concerns in the relationship were U.S. job losses to China (12-41%), the U.S. trade deficit (35-50%), and China's human rights situation (25-29%). For Chinese, the most pressing concerns about the relationship was Taiwan (40-59%), the U.S. trade deficit (18-35%), and China's environmental degradation (15-20%). Americans agreed that China's environmental degradation is a great concern (17-23%), but few felt Taiwan was a great concern (3-7%).

Asked to name the two most likely sources of conflict, Americans pointed to trade (37-55%), energy (20-36%), and human rights (17-26%). Chinese pointed to Taiwan (54-74%), human rights (20-25%), and trade (15-22%).

Clearly, on Taiwan, perceptions are quite different. And in the U.S. opinion on whether or not the U.S. should take an active role in China-Taiwan relations is quite divided. Most opinion (57%) and business (54%) leaders and Congressional staffers (64%) believe the U.S. should take an active role. Only 46% of the American general public responded that way. Most Americans oppose sending U.S. forces to intervene in China-Taiwan conflict triggered by a declaration of independence by Taiwan. In China, most of the general public and business leaders (both 53%) feel the Taiwan issue is moving towards a peaceful resolution. Fewer opinion leaders (41%), however, feel that way.

4. Domestic Matters
Asked if the U.S. was "headed on the right track," most Americans (51-66%) said no. Asked if China was on the right track, an overwhelming majority of Chinese (88-95%) said yes.

Americans felt the biggest issues facing the U.S. were the war in Iraq/foreign policy (44-51%), jobs and the economy (36-49%), and health care/insurance (22-31%). Chinese felt the biggest issues facing China were jobs and the economy (35-40%), corruption (23-32%), and Taiwan (22-30%).

In terms of personal goals, Americans ranked having a happy family as the most important. 72% included it among their two top goals. "Living as I like" ranked second (38%), and having a successful career ranked third (23%). Chinese agreed that having a happy family was most important (54%), but put getting rich second (42%) and "living as I like" third (28%).

Cheng Li of the Brookings Institution and Frank Wu of Wayne State University oversaw the study. In the U.S., Zogby interviewed 1,200 members of the general public, 200 opinion leaders (media, academia, NGOs, public officials), 150 business leaders, and 100 Congressional staffers. In China, Horizon Research conducted interviews with 4,104 members of the general public, 203 opinion leaders (social scientists, senior journalists, NGOs, and senior professionals), and 156 business leaders.

Click here to download the 71 page report from the Committee of 100 website.

Opening statements in the third round of the U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue are available in the resources section of the U.S.-China Institute website: PRC Vice-Premier Wu Yi, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.