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General Attitudes Toward China

Americans lean toward negative views of China's role in the world, its government, economic system, leadership, and its human rights record. There is little optimism that the human rights record will improve or that China will become more democratic. Trust in China is fairly low.

Nature of the US-China Relationship

Americans are more apt to view the US-China relationship as unfriendly than friendly, but only a small minority views China as an outright enemy. Americans are divided as to whether China is cooperating with the US in the war on terrorism. A strong majority views relations with China as being important to US interests and growing more important, though problems posed by China are not considered pressing.

China's Growing Economic and Military Power

Americans perceive China as one of the most influential countries and believe that this power and influence will grow. Americans do show some concern about the emergence of China as a world power, but it is not a top concern. A majority views China as an economic competitor, but still Americans lean toward viewing China's growing economic power as something positive, though a large majority are concerned about job losses to China. Americans do not perceive China as a critical military threat even over the next decade, but they do perceive a potential long term military threat and show substantial discomfort with the prospect of China significantly increasing its military power.

General Engagement with China

Despite the public's cool feelings toward China, a majority generally favors engaging China diplomatically and economically.

Human Rights and Relations With China

A majority or plurality has consistently favored taking a strong stand on China's human rights policies, including limiting trade as a way of signaling disapproval, even if this might result in economic and diplomatic costs. At the same time, Americans oppose taking a confrontational or punitive stance with China on the human rights issue. Americans perceive China as quite undemocratic and are pessimistic that it will become democratic in the near future. Here too they favor putting some pressure on China to become more democratic but resist methods that are highly confrontational.

Trade With China

A strong majority of Americans favors trade with China and a plurality believes that, on balance, it benefits the US. But several factors dampen enthusiasm for greater US-China trade. In addition to concerns about China's human rights record, there are concerns about the impact on US jobs and wages, an image of China as an unfair trader, the belief that China benefits from China-US trade more than the US, and skepticism about whether increased trade will result in changes in China.

Chinese Sale of Nuclear Technology

A strong majority favors the US taking a strong stand against China's sale of nuclear weapons technology, including imposing economic sanctions.


Americans are moderately concerned about the possible military conflict between China and Taiwan. If China were to threaten or use military force against Taiwan there would not be majority support for using US military force to protect Taiwan. A strong majority views Taiwan as being more like an independent country than as part of China, and feels that any reunification should be voluntary. The majority supports Taiwan becoming a member of international organizations such as the UN. If Taiwan were to take steps toward independence a majority would not want the US to oppose it, but the majority is opposed to selling advanced arms to Taiwan and favors a low key or cooperative approach to China on this issue.

Hong Kong

Americans give a moderate priority to ensuring that Hong Kong has some independence from China. A slim plurality agreed with Britain's decision to return Hong Kong to China, but an overwhelming majority believed that, if given the choice, Hong Kong would have chosen to be independent. A strong majority does not trust China to keep its word to allow Hong Kong to preserve its present system.

Spy Plane Incident

On April 1, 2001, a US spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter while gathering intelligence off the Chinese mainland. The US plane landed on a Chinese island, where the US crew was detained for eleven days. Overall, the American public's response to the incident was fairly measured and calm. While the majority of Americans felt that the US was not to blame for the incident because the plane was in international airspace, only a minority pinned the blame on China. The percentage having a negative view of China went up in some polls but not others. Most did not see the incident as inflicting long-term damage on the US China relationship. After the incident there was not majority support for punishing China such as by opposing China's bid for the 2008 Olympic Games. While the majority supported resuming surveillance flights, most put a higher priority on patching up relations with China than getting the plane back.

Past Controversies: Chinese Spying, Campaign Contributions, Normal Trade Relations, and Admission to the WTO

In 1999 there was significant concern about the security consequences of China's spying, but Americans did not seem to believe that this was a violation of an international norm. In 1998 Americans believed that China tried to buy influence through contributions to US election campaigns, but they did not think that such contributions had far reaching effects. Other major issues in the 1990s included whether to grant China most favored nation status or normal trade relations and China's entrance to the World Trade Organization. While a modest majority or plurality responded positively to the simple question of admitting China to the WTO, when its implications were clarified support dropped to a minority.



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Recent Data Updates
China - August 2008 (PDF)