Poll: US, China Vie for Influence among Asian Publics

February 1, 2017

Publics in the Asia-Pacific widely view the United States as the strongest military power in the region, though they are more split over whether the United States or China is the premier economic power, according to a new report on multi-nation public opinion surveys covering security and economic relations in the region.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs produced the report in partnership with the Lowy Institute (Australia), the Asia Pacific Foundation (Canada), Dataway Horizon (China), Genron NPO (Japan) and the East Asia Institute (South Korea). The data comes from public opinion polls in each country based on varying sets of shared questions.

The polls were conducted prior to the election of President Donald Trump (generally, June-September 2016). Key findings are below, and the full report with more data may be found here.

Countries around the Asia-Pacific feel the pull of both American and Chinese influence:

  • While Americans and Australians see the United States as more influential than China, Chinese see the two nations as roughly equal in terms of global influence.
  • The United States is widely viewed as more militarily powerful than China, with majorities of Americans (50 percent), Chinese (54 percent) and Japanese (78 percent)—and a plurality of Australians (43 percent)—naming the United States the stronger military power.  
  • There is less consensus on American economic power. Chinese (51 percent) and Japanese (61 percent) publics say the United States is stronger than China economically, but Americans (38 percent) and Australians (40 percent) tend to say China’s economy is stronger. This sense of economic insecurity, exacerbated by anti-China rhetoric from the new administration, could alter American views of other aspects of the Sino-American relationship.


Publics around the Asia-Pacific see their bilateral relationships as generally stable or improving, though there are several important exceptions:

  • Americans largely see their relationships around the region as stable, with majorities saying U.S. relations with Australia (75 percent), Canada (69 percent) and South Korea (58 percent) are staying about the same, and a plurality (46 percent) say the same about Sino-American relations.
  • Matching those views, relatively few respondents in any country polled say that their relations with the United States are worsening. Majorities of Australians (68 percent), Chinese (61 percent) and South Koreans (60 percent), and a plurality of Canadians (39 percent), say that relations with the United States are staying about the same.
  • Views from around the Asia-Pacific are also fairly optimistic in assessing the respective countries’ bilateral relationship with China. Pluralities in Canada (46 percent) and Australia (49 percent) say that relations are staying about the same, and a plurality of South Koreans (48 percent) say that relations with China are improving.
  • Along with expressing warm feelings toward countries in the region, majorities of the Chinese public say that relations are staying about the same with the United States (61 percent), Canada (63 percent) and Australia (62 percent). A plurality (45 percent) say that relations are stable with South Korea, though one in three (34 percent) say relations are worsening. And, concerning regional relations, an outright majority of Chinese say relations with Japan are worsening (55 percent).


There is also a general agreement on the top threats facing the countries of the Asia-Pacific:

  • Majorities or pluralities see international terrorism as a critical threat to their respective nations and say that combating it is a very important goal for their countries’ foreign policy.
  • North Korea’s nuclear program also raises concerns around the region, as does the broader concern of unfriendly countries becoming nuclear powers.


Finally, while the fate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is unclear following U.S. withdrawal, the reason for its potential demise will not be the absence of public support around the region:

  • Majorities or pluralities support the TPP in the United States (60 percent), Australia (47 percent), Japan (46 percent) and Canada (44 percent). A large majority of South Koreans (85 percent) also support entering the deal, though South Korea was not a part of the TPP negotiations.
  • The only public opposed to the TPP in the region was China’s, with a majority (51 percent) opposed.



United States: Chicago Council on Global Affairs
The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2016 Chicago Council Survey of the American public and U.S. foreign policy. The 2016 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide online research panel June 10-27, 2016, among a national sample of 2,061 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is ±2.38, including a design effect of 1.2149. The margin of error is higher for questions administered to a partial sample. The 2016 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Korea Foundation and the personal support of Lester Crown and the Crown family. 

Canada: Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada
The Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada commissioned EKOS Research Associates to conduct a survey of 3,526 Canadian adults who are participants in the Probit online survey panel. The survey was conducted June 28-July 21, 2016. The margin of error is ±1.6 percent for the entire sample. For questions about threats and policy goals, the sample was divided and the margin of error is ±2.3 percent. The results have been statistically weighted by EKOS according to current Statistics Canada census data on age, gender and region to ensure that the sample is representative of the entire adult population. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. 

China: Dataway Horizon
The analysis of Chinese public opinion in this report is based on data from a study conducted by Dataway Horizon as part of a multinational collaborative effort. The survey was conducted September 5-13, 2016 among a sample of 1,520 adults, 18 years or older, living in 15 major metropolitan areas (Beijing, Tianjin, Jinan, Qingdao, Guangzhou, Shenyang, Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Zhengzhou, Changsha, Chongqing, Chengdu and Xi’an). The margin of sampling error for the full sample is ±2.5. Respondents must have resided in the local area for more than one year and not participated in any other market survey during the previous six months. Interviewees were selected through a multi-step process, first using a grid map to select households, then using a standard KISH grid to select the household respondent. The survey was then administered as a face-to-face interview in the respondent’s household. 

South Korea: East Asia Institute
The data from South Korea was part of a poll commissioned by the East Asia Institute and conducted by Korea Research Co. The survey was conducted via face-to-face interviews, and it surveyed 1,000 adults aged 19 and over. It employed quota sampling based on region, gender and age. The survey was conducted June 16-July 5, 2016. The margin of error is ±3.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

Japan: Genron NPO
The Genron NPO survey in Japan was conducted June 18-July 3, 2016 and August 20-September 4 among a national sample of 1,000 adults, 18 years of age or older. The survey was fielded in 50 regions of Japan, with 20 samples from each region collected based on a quota sampling method at the individual level using 2014 basic registration data. The survey was conducted face-to-face, with the questionnaire left with the respondent and then collected a few days later.

Australia: Lowy Institute
The Australian data in this report is based on the results of a nationwide online poll of 1,222 Australians aged 18 years and older, July 14-19, 2016. The "feeling thermometer" data represented in Appendix Figure 1 and related text is drawn from the results of the annual Lowy Institute Poll 2016, a survey of 1,202 Australian adults conducted February 26-March 15, 2016. Seewww.lowyinstitute.org/publications/polling for details. Fieldwork for the July survey was managed by Omnipoll research on behalf of the Lowy Institute and conducted by Lightspeed Research using their large-scale national online research panel. Results were post-weighted to Australian Bureau of Statistics data on age, highest level of schooling completed, gender and area. The maximum error margin for the total sample, after accounting for the effect of weighting, is 3.2 percent, with higher margins where the result for a sub-sample is reported.

About the Chicago Council on Global Affairs
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. Ranked No. 1 Think Tank to Watch worldwide, the Council on Global Affairs is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business and governments engage the world. Learn more at thechicagocouncil.organd follow @ChicagoCouncil.

About Dataway Horizon
Dataway Horizon is an international organization based in China providing data intelligence service. It has carried out multiple practices in providing various services to the governments, large enterprises, start-ups and non-governmental organizations both domestically and internationally. Also, Dataway Horizon fastens attention on innovative services and products under the Internet economy, and exhausts capabilities in data mining and analyzing merged data streams to support the clients’ strategies with respect to economic, social, cultural development and policy-making.

About the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada
The Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada is dedicated to strengthening ties between Canada and Asia with a focus on expanding economic relations through trade, investment and innovation; promoting Canada’s expertise in offering solutions to Asia’s climate change, energy, food security and natural resource management challenges; building Asia skills and competencies among Canadians, including young Canadians; and improving Canadians’ general understanding of Asia and its growing global influence. The foundation is well known for its annual national opinion polls of Canadian attitudes regarding relations with Asia, including Asian foreign investment in Canada and Canada’s trade with Asia. The foundation places an emphasis on China, India, Japan and South Korea while also developing expertise in emerging markets in the region, particularly economies within ASEAN. Visit APF Canada at www.asiapacific.ca

About the East Asia Institute
The East Asia Institute was established as an independent think-tank dedicated to developing ideas and formulating policy recommendations on the main challenges facing the region. Through hosting scholarly seminars, forums, education programs and various publications it can achieve these aims in creating influential products. EAI conducts research activities along with two main programs, the Foreign Affairs and Security Program and the Governance Research Program, which are conducted by five research centers. Through the utilization of the research task force team, EAI addresses imminent and critical issues. By working together with recognized scholars and leading policymakers, EAI is at the center of producing research outcomes reflecting innovation and influential policy debate. As one of the leading think-tanks in Korea, EAI is fulfilling the way in forming a true knowledge-net community in Northeast Asia by setting up a system of joint research and scholarly exchanges in the United States, China and Taiwan as well as many other countries. 

About The Genron-NPO
The Genron NPO was established in 2001 by leading Japanese intellectuals who were dissatisfied with the Japanese media and called into question the authenticity of the voices of the general public. These intellectuals sought to prepare a new platform for constructive discussions and eventually nurture meaningful measures to address Japan's major issues. Our activities are independent and neutral with regard to any government interest or specific concern. The mission of The Genron NPO is to create a strong democracy and a strong civil society in Japan on the strength of debates and sound public opinion. What we are aiming at is the creation of a sound democratic society in which voters are principal players and a strong civil society in which voters participate with a strong sense of being a stakeholder.

About Lowy Institute
The Lowy Institute is an independent, non-partisan think tank based in Sydney, Australia. It is Australia's leading foreign policy think tank, providing high-quality research and distinctive perspectives on the international trends shaping Australia and the world. The Lowy Institute conducts a high-level program of research and events, which aims to deepen the international policy debate in Australia and to give Australia a distinctive voice on the international stage. The Lowy Institute has conducted robust, independent polling of the Australian public annually since 2005, allowing opinion to be compared over time. The annual Lowy Institute Poll is one of the Institute’s flagship publications and provides insights into the constraints and opportunities public opinion creates for policymakers in Australia. The Institute has also conducted numerous polls overseas in a range of countries in the Indo-Pacific region such as China, Indonesia, India, Fiji and New Zealand. For further information, seewww.lowyinstitute.org and @LowyInstitute.