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Ahead of Biden-Suga Summit, Americans See Japan as the United States' Most Important Partner

RESEARCH Public Opinion Survey by Craig Kafura and Karl Friedhoff
President Joe Biden meets with the leaders of Japan, India, and Australia
The White House

Craig Kafura and Karl Friedhoff analyze findings of a recent poll examining American public opinion on US relations with Japan.

Prime Minister Suga will be the first foreign leader to meet with President Biden at the White House. Coming on the heels of Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin’s March visit to Tokyo, the two leaders are expected to focus their discussions on bilateral cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, particularly on policy towards China. A March 19-21 Chicago Council survey finds that Americans see Japan as the most important country to the United States and support the long-term basing of US troops in Japan. But Americans are hesitant about involving American troops in a conflict between China and Japan over disputed islands.

The US-Japan Relationship

  • Since the 1990s, Americans have grown increasingly favorable toward Japan. On a 0-100 scale, with 0 being very cool and 100 being very warm, Japan registered a mean score of 65, similar to July 2020.
  • When last asked in July 2020, eight in ten (81%) saw Japan as more of a partner than a rival to the United States, while 71 percent said that Japan and China are mostly rivals.
  • Six in ten Americans (59%) say that the United States should have long-term military bases in Japan, down from a high of 65 percent in 2018. Support for US bases in Japan is bipartisan, including majorities of Republicans (65%), Democrats (54%), and Independents (59%).
  • In a January 29-February 1, 2021 Chicago Council survey, Japan was named as the most important country to the United States (78%), similar to China (75%) and ahead of key US ally Germany (72%).

Americans on Competition with China

  • While two-thirds of Americans (67%) say that China seeks to replace the United States as the most dominant power in the world, they are divided on how to approach Beijing. Half (51%) say the United States should actively work to limit the growth of China’s power, while nearly as many (47%) want to undertake friendly cooperation and engagement with China.
  • Americans are also divided over a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games: 49 percent support, and 46 percent oppose, boycotting the Games in response to China’s human rights abuses.
  • The public is also hesitant to get into a conflict with China: a majority of Americans (53%) oppose the use of US troops were China to initiate a military conflict with Japan over disputed islands. While a minority, support for US involvement (44%) is the highest recorded in Council polling dating back to when the question was first asked in 2015.
  • Three in four Americans (74%) say the United States should put a higher priority on building up our strong relations with traditional allies like South Korea and Japan, even if this might diminish our relations with China.

For Additional Information

Council experts are available to speak on these issues. Please email Karl Friedhoff (kfriedhoff@thechicagocouncil.org) or Craig Kafura (ckafura@thechicagocouncil.org) for media inquiries on the data or commentary on the meeting between President Biden and Prime Minister Suga.

Methodology

 This survey was conducted March 19-21, 2021, by Ipsos using its large-scale nationwide online research panel, KnowledgePanel, among a weighted national sample of 1,017 people 18 or older, living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The margin of sampling error for a survey of this size is ±3.1 percentage points, and is higher for partisan subgroups or for partial-sample items. The survey was designed with input from American, Japanese, and Korean scholars as part of a broader project focusing on trilateral coordination in the Asia-Pacific. Additional results from the United States and South Korea are also available; results from Japan are forthcoming. The survey was made possible by the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

About the Authors
Assistant Director, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Council expert Craig Kafura
Craig Kafura is the assistant director for public opinion and foreign policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a Security Fellow with the Truman National Security Project, and a Pacific Forum Young Leader. At the Council, he coordinates work on public opinion and foreign policy and is a regular contributor to the public opinion and foreign policy blog Running Numbers.
Council expert Craig Kafura
Marshall M. Bouton Fellow for Asia Studies
Council expert Karl Friedhoff
Karl Friedhoff was a Korea Foundation-Mansfield Foundation US-Korea Nexus Scholar and a member of the Mansfield Foundation’s Trilateral Working Group prior to joining the Council. Previously, he was a program officer in the Public Opinion Studies Program at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies based in Seoul, South Korea.
Council expert Karl Friedhoff