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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.

Americans clearly favor engaging in trade with China at the most abstract levels. In a July 2004 CCFR poll 63% said they favored engaging in trade with China, while just 31% were opposed. Support was even higher when the question was asked in 2002 and 71% favored engaging in trade with China.[1].

Polls have found that more Americans believe that trade with China benefits the US. A Newsweek poll in May 1999 found that 80% of Americans agreed, "China is an important market and trading partner for the United States." Just 15% disagreed. [2] Two Gallup surveys from 2000 found that approximately half believed that "increased trade" with China would "mostly help" the US economy (48% in May 2000, 51% in January 2000), while 37-38% said that it would "mostly hurt" the US economy. [3] A June 1998 CBS/NYT poll found that 50% thought that "trade with China…is good for the US economy" (bad: 23%; no effect: 14%). [4]

But several factors dampen support for increased US-China trade In addition to the concerns about human rights [see ” Human Rights and Relations with China;”] the public shows strong concern about the impact of increased US-China trade on US workers, including the availability of jobs and wages. [see “China’s Growing Economic and Military Power”]

Support for trade is also undercut by the belief that China is an unfair trader—much more than any other major US trading partner, including Japan. In 2004 CCFR asked respondents to rate the major powers as to whether they “practice fair trade or unfair trade with the United States.” Fifty-one percent said that China practices unfair trade while 36% said it trades fairly. This was not significantly different from CCFR’s 2002 poll when 53% said China trades unfairly.[5] Other countries were seen as practicing fair trade including the EU (fair 60%, unfair 26%), Japan (fair 52%, unfair 35%), South Korea (fair 49%, unfair 35%), Mexico (fair 50%, unfair 38%) and Canada (fair 74%, unfair 15%). [5a]

In September 2003 CNN USA Today also found a modest majority expressing the belief that China trades unfairly. Asked to choose which of two positions, “comes close to your view about what China represents to the U.S.” just 34% took the position that China is “a large potential market for U.S. firms” while 55% said it was “a source of unfair competition for U.S. companies here at home?”. In the same poll, 51% also felt that China captured business in the US via “unfair tactics, such as the Chinese government’s manipulation of its currency,” rather than by offering better products or prices (32%).

This perception of the Chinese acting unfairly is longstanding. In a January 2000 Hart poll, 60% said that, "compared to other countries the US trades with," China was "below average" in "allowing the US equal access to its market." Just 23% thought access to Chinese markets was average (21%) or above average (2%). [5b]

This perception that China acts unfairly may be related to the widespread view that the US should be tougher in its economic relations with China. Asked in April 2006 NBC/Wall Steet Journal poll whether “the United States is too tough, about right, or not tough enough in our business and economic negotiations,” when it comes to China, a majority of 57% said the US is not tough enough, while just 18% said the US is about right and a mere 4% say the US is too tough. [6]

Closely related to this sense of China as an unfair trader is the perception that increased trade with China benefits China more than the US. In April 2001, 50% thought that China "stands to gain more from current US-China trade, cultural and other relations," while only 15% thought the US stood to gain more ("not know enough about the topic to say": 31%; Investor's Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor). [7] In the 2000 Gallup surveys mentioned above, half felt that "increased trade between the US and China" would "mostly help…the US economy." Yet in the same surveys, overwhelming majorities (77% in May and in January) felt it would mostly help "the Chinese economy"; in both cases, less than 10% thought it would "mostly hurt." [8] Two Fox News polls tried two different questions to gauge American's perceptions of relative benefits of "normalized trade relations between the United States and China." When Fox asked in June 2000 "whose economy do you think would benefit more", respondents chose China by more than 2 to 1 (50% to 24%). When Fox asked in May whose economy would be "harmed" more, a modest plurality chose the US (45% to 37%). [9]

Americans also are skeptical that increased trade with China will lead to positive change there despite many claims by government officials to the contrary when trying to promote trade with China. Three Pew surveys between June 1999 and May 2001 found a consistent and strong plurality (47% in each survey) rejecting the idea that "trade between China and Western nations will lead to China becoming more democratic." In May 2001, only 37% felt trade would lead to democratization in China, and 16% did not know. [9a]



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China - August 2008 (PDF)