December 2, 2016 | By Karl Friedhoff, Craig Kafura

Public Opinion in the US and China

There is perhaps no more important bilateral relationship in the world today than the one between the United States and China—the world’s two most important players in terms of economics and security. As a new US administration led by President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office, this relationship will help to set the tone for the foreign policy of both countries over the next four years.

The incoming US administration has already signaled it intends to take a tough line when it comes to its perceptions of unfair trade practices of China, increasing stress on an already strained relationship. The Obama administration’s inability to realize the rebalance to Asia—a central foreign policy tenet of his administration—now lacks a credible economic component given that the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership seems doomed. This means that the focus of the rebalance is on security. This imbalanced rebalance, combined with hawkish statements from Trump advisors, adds weight to China’s suspicion that the United States is attempting to contain Chinese influence in the region and around the world.

Changes in public opinion—or the lack thereof—will offer one important measure by which to judge where the relationship is headed. In order to benchmark public opinion in both countries at the outset of such an important transition, the Council on Global Affairs, in partnership with Dataway Horizon, conducted surveys in both the US and China examining the same issues and questions from both sides of the bilateral relationship. 

The results of this study show that both American and Chinese publics want to see their country pursue an active role in world affairs and think that a shared leadership role is the appropriate way forward. While both publics see the benefits to their nations from globalization, their actual economic experiences color their expectations for future growth. While Chinese see a clear upward economic trajectory from their parents’ quality of life to their own and to their children’s’ future, Americans are more pessimistic. These personal views among Americans may lead some to view international trade as a zero sum transaction where gains made by the Chinese come at the expense to Americans. 

In the same way, the Chinese may view security issues in a similar zero sum manner, perhaps viewing American influence in the region—through alliances and its overseas presence—as an obstacle to Chinese influence in the region. Unfortunately, what has become a lopsided rebalance during the Obama administration with more focus on security more than on trade has likely contributed to this perception.

Finally, the results suggest significant distrust between American and Chinese publics, as they both tend to believe the other country is working to undermine the influence of the other. This latter measure will be an important marker to watch going forward, as growing distrust may reflect an erosion of bilateral relations—already a concern for both publics.

For full results, read the latest report, Views from the G2: Public Opinion in the US and China.

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.

Archive

| By Dina Smeltz

Sweet and Sour: American Opinion on China

Several recent surveys show that Americans recognize China’s growing influence and emphasize the importance of friendly engagement with China.  But many also recognize that over the longer term China’s rise could be a negative development for the competitiveness of the United States.


| By Dina Smeltz

They're Coming to America

Immigration reform is on the move: a comprehensive immigration reform bill, S. 744, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 21 by a vote of 13-5, with a full Senate vote expected to take place this summer.


| By Dina Smeltz

Game of Drones

President Obama will be discussing his administration’s drone program and other elements of his counterterrorism strategy in a speech he will deliver today at the National Defense University.





| By Dina Smeltz

Ten Years On, GOP Faithful Less Positive about Iraq War

There have been a lot of retrospective pieces about the Iraq war the past few weeks, but Ole R. Holsti, the George V. Allen Professor of Political Science (Emeritus) at Duke University, has been looking at American attitudes on the Iraq war for quite a while.


| By Dina Smeltz

Popping the Question

Throughout these posts I've tried to highlight the critical impact of question wording on polling results, and how specific wording can influence responses.  


| By Dina Smeltz

Splitting Atoms

Rather than abandoning our dated technology (à la Dr. Frankenstein), should we  "love our monsters," and modernize them for current conditions?





| By Dina Smeltz

It's Not Easy Being Green

The Obama Administration’s energy strategy has evolved over time, viewing the production of natural gas and nuclear energy as a transitional stage in shifting away from dependence on fossil fuels to reliance on cleaner energy sources.