As China Rises, Americans Seek Closer Ties with Japan

December 11, 2018

By: Craig Kafura, Assistant Director, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy; Karl Friedhoff, Fellow, Public Opinion and Asia Policy

Over the first two years of the Trump administration, the United States has simultaneously aggrieved Japan, a pivotal US ally in Asia, while also taking a more confrontational stance against China. This has raised broad concerns about the future of US involvement in Asia and the basis of support for the US-Japan alliance. While the American public is hesitant to get involved in a conflict between China and Japan, public support for US bases in Japan is at an all-time high, and Americans across party lines want to build strong relations with US allies in Asia.

Key Findings

  • Americans view the US-Japan relationship as an important one for the US economy (91%) and for US security (79%).
  • Across the political spectrum, Americans prefer closer ties with traditional allies (66%), even if doing so diminishes US relations with China. This is one of the few issues where the gap between Republicans and Democrats narrowed in the 2018 survey.
  • Public support for US bases in Japan is at an all-time recorded high of 65 percent, with majority support among Republicans (72%), Democrats (65%), and Independents (61%).
  • The American public supports defending Japan against North Korean attack (64% favor) but does not support involving US troops in a Japan-China conflict over disputed islands (41% favor).
  • Americans’ rating of Japan’s global influence has declined, going from 6.6 in 2002 to 5.7 in 2018 (mean rating on a 0-10 scale).

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