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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.

Americans view China as having significant influence in the world. Asked in a WorldPublicOpinion.org poll in June 2006 to rate how much influence China has in the world on a scale of 0 to 10 with 0 being not all influential and 10 being extremely influential the mean response was 6.6, nearly the same as the 6.8 rating found by CCFR in June 2002 [1] This was about equal to the rating given to Britain (6.6) and slightly more than Japan (6.2), the European Union (5.8) and Russia (5.7).

For some time now a large majority has perceived China as on a trajectory of increasing power.. In June 2006 WorldPublicOpinion.org asked respondents whether China’s “influence in the world will increase, decrease, or stay about the same over the next 10 years.” A clear majority (70%) felt that its influence will increase, while just 27% believed its influence would stay about the same (24%) or decrease (3%).[2] This closely mirrors the findings from the June 2002 CCFR poll which found 72% that said China would play a greater role in 10 years. This view has been in place for some time. CCFR found similar responses in 1994 and 1998.[3] A May 1999 Pew survey found that two-thirds of Americans (67%) believed it at least probable that China will "become a rival superpower to the US."

However, most Americans do not see China as displacing the US as the dominant world power. Asked by Ipsos Reid in April 2005 whether they agreed that “China will soon dominate the world as the most important superpower” only 32% agreed (13% very much). Sixty-six percent disagreed (34% very much). [4] A May 2000 Gallup survey asked which of a list of countries respondents expected to be "the world's leading economic power--looking ahead twenty years." A solid majority of 55% chose the US, but 15% chose China, compared to 13% for Japan and 10% for the EU.[5]

Americans do show some concern about the emergence of China as a world power. In January 2005 Pew presented respondents a list of “foreign policy problems” and asked about what kind of priority should be given to each. The problem of “keeping a close watch on the development of China as a world power” was rated as a priority by 88%, with just 9% saying that it should have no priority. However, only 42% said that it should be a top priority. These numbers were not significantly different from when Pew asked these same questions in 2003. [6]

Americans also perceive some degree of threat in China’s growing power. Asked by Pew Research in February 2006 whether they viewed China’s emergence as a world power as a “major threat, minor threat, or not a threat to the well being of the United States,” 47% of respondents saw it as a major threat, while 34% called it a minor threat.

This was somewhat higher than when CCFR asked a similar question in 2004 and 33% viewed the development of China as a world power as a critical threat and 54% called it important but not critical. The Pew finding, though, was similar to the 2002 CCFR finding that where 56% said they viewed China’s rise as a critical threat and 34% viewed it as an important but not critical threat. [7]

At the same time Americans say that they do not worry much about China’s rise. In a January 2006 Public Agenda poll only 29% said they worry a lot “that the growing power of China may be a threat to the United States,” while 38% say they worry somewhat. Also, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in October 2004 presented a list of five foreign policy priorities and asked which should be the top priority. Only 11% of respondents chose “dealing with China as a growing superpower,” on about the same level as “peace negotiations with the Israelis and Palestinians” and significantly lower than dealing with Iran and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and rebuilding Iraq. [8]

China’s Economic Power

Most Americans do perceive China as an economic competitor. In a NBC/WSJ poll of May 2005, 61% identified China as “a serious economic competitor of the United States” with another 30% saying that China will be “will be a serious economic competitor to the United States in the future.” Just 5% said that it will never be an economic competitor.[9]

At the same time Americans lean slightly toward having a positive view of China’s economic growth—which is not a contradiction given American belief in the stimulative value of economic competition. A December 2005 CNN/USA Today poll found 48% thought “the growth of China as a major economy” was a positive development for the United States, while 46% saw it as a negative development. Asked by Pew in May 2005 “do you think that China's growing economy is a good thing or a bad thing for our country?” 49% said it was a good thing and 40% said it was a bad thing. [10] When asked about the possibility of China becoming “significantly more powerful economically than it is today” (emphasis added), the response was divided. Forty-six percent said it would be mostly positive while 45% said it would be mostly negative. (BBC World Service Poll conducted by GlobeScan/PIPA November 2004).[11]

This same pattern was found in questions that ask about whether China’s economic growth is a threat. In a December 2005 CNN/USA Today poll, 64% of respondents said they considered China to be “an economic threat to the United States,” while 33% said it was not a threat. However, when given the option to say whether they viewed China’s growth as a threat or an opportunity, views were more balanced. An April 2005 Ipsos Reid poll asked “Do you view China's recent rapid economic development as a threat or an opportunity for the United States?” with 50% saying it was an opportunity while 44% said it was a threat. [12]

This view of China’s growth as an opportunity is up a bit. In a June 1999 study by Potomac Associates and Opinion Dynamics 51% saw "China's growth and emergence as a global power" as a "threat and challenge to US security interests [that] needs to be contained," while just 40% felt it represented "an opportunity for US business and a potential benefit from which we should seek economic gain." [13] When asked to consider only China's "wealth and economic power" in an October 1997 Gallup poll, 45% thought it to be an "opportunity" and 43% saw it as a "threat." [14]

The one case where a plurality backed away from China’s growing power was when Newsweek asked about “the emergence of China as an economic superpower” in 2004. Only 28% said that this emergence was a good thing while 41% said it was a bad thing. This was presumably because the question, by referring to China as a superpower, framed the issue as China directly challenging the US position in the world.[15]

The relatively muted concern about Chinese economic power is also reflected in a comparatively modest level of attention to the issue. Asked by CNN/USA Today in September 2003 how closely they followed “news about the impact of business competition from China on the U.S.” only 42% said they followed it very (10%) or somewhat (32%) closely. Fifty eight percent said they followed it not too closely (33%) or not closely at all (25%).[16]

At the same time, a large majority views job losses to China as a serious problem. An April 2005 Ipsos Reid poll found that 66% agree (41% very much) that “China is a serious threat to jobs in the United States.” In June 2005, Democracy Corps found 72% saying that “job losses to China and India” are a very serious (32%) or serious (40%) problem in the current economy, a finding replicated numerous times in 2003 and 2004 as well. Eighty percent said they were very (51%) or somewhat (29%) worried that “good-paying blue-collar jobs are going to countries like China, Mexico and India” in a March 2004 US News and World Report Poll. [17] Twice in 2000 Gallup surveys found a solid majority (57% in May, 56% in January) saying that "increased trade between the United States and China would…mostly hurt US workers." In each case, less than one-third thought it would "mostly help." [18] In a November 1999 Gallup survey, respondents were more divided but still pessimistic about whether "more foreign trade between the US and China [would] increase or decrease the number of jobs available for American workers in the United States." Forty-nine percent thought it would "decrease" the jobs available, while 41% thought it would increase them. [18a] In June 1999, 60% said that imports from China pose "a serious threat to the jobs of American workers;" just 33% felt they do not (Potomac Associates and Opinion Dynamics). [18b] When asked in an April 2000 Harris Interactive survey, more than two-thirds (68%) said they believe "trade agreements with low-wage countries such as China and Mexico lead to…lower wages for Americans." [18c]

Outsourcing is another key concern. A Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll in April 2004 asked about the issue of “The economy and the issues of job outsourcing, global trade, and the economic rise of India and China” and found that 46% thought that this is very serious problem while another 33% thought it was an important problem. Just 12% called it a small problem and 7% said it was not a problem. Forty-eight percent said that it will require major changes and another 30% said moderate changes.[19]

China’s Military Power

Americans are divided about whether China poses a military threat to the United States. Asked by CNN/USA Today in December 2005 whether they considered China to be a military threat to the United States, 50% said they did consider China a threat, while 48% said they did not. [20]

Only a minority of Americans have expressed concerned about direct military conflict with China. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll of April 2001--taken at a moment of high tension just after China's release of detained US airmen-only 43% said they were very or fairly concerned "about possible armed conflict between the United States and China in the next five years." Fifty-six percent were "just a little concerned" (33%) or "not concerned at all" (23%).[21]

Americans do not see China as becoming a critical military threat over the next decade. Asked by CNN/USA Today in February 2004 about a number of “possible threats to the vital interest of the United States in the next 10 years,” only 39% labeled “the military power of China” as a critical threat. Forty-six percent labeled it an important threat and 11% said it was not important. [22]

However, a majority does perceive that there is at least a potential long term military threat. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in March 2005 presented a list of nations and asked respondents “whether you think that country poses an immediate military threat to the United States, a long-term military threat, or no real military threat to the United States.” Only 17% said China posed an immediate military threat, but another 52% said it posed a long term military threat. Just 27% said it posed no military threat. [23]

Large majorities show discomfort with the idea of China significantly increasing its military power. A BBC/GlobeScan/PIPA poll asked about some possible future trends in November 2004, including the possibility that “China becomes significantly more powerful military than it is today.” Seventy-five percent viewed this potential development as mainly negative, while only 19% saw it as mainly positive. [24]

In general Americans show little enthusiasm about the prospect of another country emerging as another military superpower to match the US. Respondents in a Pew May 2005 poll were told:

Right now, the U.S. (United States) has the most powerful military capability in the world. In the future, should US policies try to keep it so America is the only military superpower or would it be better if Europe, China or another country became as powerful as the U.S.?

Not surprisingly, only 23% thought it would better if a rival military superpower would emerge, while 63% were opposed. [25]

Concerns about growing Chinese military may have also been reflected in an April 2005 Ipsos-Reid poll which asked respondents if they agreed that “the emergence of China as a superpower is a threat to world peace.” A majority of 53% agreed while 42% disagreed, although it is somewhat difficult to interpret this finding because it is not clear if respondents were responding to the prospect of China as a military superpower, and economic superpower, or both. [26]



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