Survey: Americans, Japanese, Koreans Favor Strong Relationships; Chinese Wary of US Troops in Asia

October 19, 2015
Public opinion in the United States, Japan, Korea and China reveals strong interest in the respective relationships in the region, according to a new survey report published by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the East Asia Institute in cooperation with Genron NPO and the Horizon Research Consultancy Group. Yet views among the public in each country differ on key issues such as the trilateral U.S.-Japan-Korea alliance, the approach to a rising China and levels and use of U.S. force in the region.
 
Relations Among U.S., Japan, Korea
  • Large majorities of South Koreans and Japanese view relations with the United States as important (98 percent and 93 percent, respectively). Similarly, Americans describe relations with Japan (88 percent) and South Korea (83 percent) as important.
  • Yet polling shows some distrust in relations between Japan and South Korea. While 48 percent of South Koreans cite confidence in Japan to responsibly handle world problems, just 25 percent of Japanese say they trust South Korea to do the same.
  • While 66 percent of Americans say South Korea is a reliable partner – 78 percent say the same about Japan – just 36 percent cite confidence in South Korea to responsibly handle world problems compared to 58 percent who cite confidence in Japan.
     
Views on the US Rebalance to Asia, Troop Levels
  • Nearly half (49 percent) of Americans expressed support for the U.S. rebalance to Asia. This is down from 60 percent in 2014.
  • Majorities in Japan (53 percent), South Korea (61 percent) and the United States (64 percent) favor maintaining the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific at current levels. However, there is very little support for increasing U.S. military levels in the Asia-Pacific (Japan 9 percent, South Korea 14 percent, United States 11 percent).
  • A clear majority of Chinese (58 percent) say that the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific should be decreased.
     
Trilateral Views on Relations with China
  • Japan: The Japanese public is the only one of the trilateral partners in which a minority (42 percent) describe relations with China as very important, and a minority of Chinese (12 percent) say relations with Japan are very important. Just 15 percent of Japan’s public states confidence in China responsibly dealing with world affairs; 14 percent of Chinese say the same about Japan.
  • South Korea: There is high confidence among the public in South Korea (71 percent) that China will responsibly handle world problems. Yet only a plurality (47 percent) in China state the same about South Korea. In contrast to the emphasis placed on security and political dimensions of the U.S.-Korea relationship, just 15 percent say that improving political and security relations is the most important for improving South Korea-China relations. Seventy percent of South Koreans state that improving economic relations with China is key.
  • United States: A majority of Americans (55 percent) consider relations with China very important, though only a minority of Chinese (23 percent) say the same about the United States. Even so, 79 percent of Chinese define the relationship with the United States as important overall, making it the most important of any bilateral relationship for China included in the survey. Among Americans, just 34 percent express confidence in China to deal responsibly with world problems. Among Chinese, 46 percent state the same about the United States.
     
Attitudes on Use of U.S. Force in the Region
  • In a hypothetical question asking about using U.S. troops if North Korea were to invade South Korea, Americans are split on the use of U.S. forces to come to South Korea’s defense (47 percent support, 49 percent oppose). Overall, the level of support for the use of U.S. troops to defend South Korea is at an all-time high. In contrast, support for the use of U.S. troops to defend Taiwan should China invade has remained largely unchanged over 17 years (just 28 percent support in the 2015 survey).
  • Only 36 percent of South Koreans would support the U.S. sending troops to defend Taiwan if it were invaded by China, to defend Japan if it were attacked by North Korea (35 percent) or if China initiated a military conflict against Japan (27 percent). Yet 91 percent of South Koreans support the use of U.S. troops if North Korea were to invade South Korea.
  • A large majority of the Japanese public would support the United States sending troops to defend South Korea (57 percent) and Japan (71 percent) if they come under attack from North Korea. In addition, a majority (56 percent) favor the use of U.S. troops to defend Japan if China initiates a military action against the country.
     
Ramifications of a Future Korean Reunification
  • In the event of a reunification of the two Koreas, only 18 percent of Americans say that the U.S.-South Korean alliance should be ended. Thirty-two percent would support maintaining the alliance and retaining ground troops, and 44 percent would support maintaining the alliance but removing ground troops.
  • A slight plurality of South Koreans think “the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula after peaceful reunification should be maintained” (49 percent support, 44 percent oppose).
  • The public in China sees things differently, with two-thirds (66 percent) stating there would be no need for U.S. troops to remain on the Korean Peninsula following a peaceful reunification.
     
This survey was done in partnership with Genron NPO in Japan, the East Asia Institute in South Korea and the Horizon Research Consultancy Group in China.
 
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.
 
Methodology
The 2015 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research 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 using the KnowledgePanel, GfK’s largescale, probability-based, nationwide online research panel. The margin of error ranges from ± 2.2 to ± 3.1 percentage points depending on the specific question.
 
The Genron NPO survey in Japan was conducted from April 9 to 30, 2015 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 2010 census data. The survey was conducted face-to-face, with the questionnaire left with the respondent and then collected a few days later. The margin of error ranges from ±4.6 to ±6.0 percentage points depending on the specific question.
 
The East Asia Institute survey in South Korea was conducted by the Han-Kook Research Company between April 17 and May 8, 2015, among a national sample of 1,010 adults, aged 18 years and older. It uses a quota sampling method based on region, gender, and age and the interviews were conducted face to face. The margin of error is ±3.1 percentage points.
 
Horizon Research Consultancy Group conducted the survey in China from Aug. 25 to Sept. 11, 2015 among an urban sample of 3,142 adults, aged 18 years and older. The survey used the PPS sampling method and was conducted face to face across all tier 1-4 cities in 29 provinces. The margin of error is ±1.8 percentage points.