Survey: Ahead of State Visit by Chinese President, Americans Place High Value on Ties, Despite Mistrust

September 23, 2015
As Chinese President Xi and President Obama prepare to meet in Washington on September 25, survey findings from The Chicago Council on Global Affairs show that the American public places a high value on U.S.-China ties even as it expresses a significant amount of distrust toward China. Yet given the importance of the relationship, the public’s overarching inclination is that the United States actively cooperate with China rather than actively try to limit its rise.

Americans Underscore Importance of U.S.-China Ties, Engagement 
  • Americans place a high value on bilateral relations with China – 88 percent define the U.S.-Sino relationship as important with 55 percent saying relations are very important. 
  • In the 2014 Chicago Council Survey, 67 percent of Americans said the United States should undertake friendly cooperation and engagement with China. Only 29 percent said that the United States should seek to actively limit China’s growth. This finding has been consistent since the question was first asked in 2006. 
China’s Influence in Asia Rising, Yet Americans Concerned about its Role 
  • Just over half of Americans (52 percent) believe China’s influence in Asia will grow over the coming decade. Only 31 percent say the same about U.S. influence in Asia. 
  • Just 34 percent of Americans think China will deal responsibly with problems facing the world, and 56 percent state China plays a negative role in resolving the key problems facing Asia.  
China Perceived as Low-level Threat 
  • Only a minority of Americans (41 percent) believe China’s growing military power and emerging economic power (31 percent) are critical threats to the United States. This places both in the bottom half of critical threats on a list of more than 20. Further, only 22 percent think China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors pose a critical threat to the United States. 
  • Yet a clear majority of Americans (69 percent) cite cyberattacks as a critical threat to the United States, placing cyberattacks second on a list of more than 20 possible threats. (The question wording in the survey did not specify a country of origin for these attacks.)
Americans Hesitant to Get Involved in Conflict 
  • If China were to invade Taiwan or initiate military conflict with Japan over disputed territories, few Americans would support sending U.S. troops in defense of Taiwan (28 percent) or Japan (33 percent).
The full brief from the survey may be found here.

About the Chicago Council Survey
The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2015 Chicago Council Survey of the American public on foreign policy. The 2015 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, probability-based nationwide online research KnowledgePanel between May 25 and June 17, 2015 among a national sample of 2,034 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error ranges from ± 2.2 to ± 3.1 percentage points depending on the specific question, with higher margins of error for partisan subgroups.
The 2015 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Korea Foundation, the United States-Japan Foundation and the personal support of Lester Crown and the Crown family.