September 18, 2012

U.S. Public, Experts Differ on China Policies

Chapter 1. How Americans View China

Americans offer a positive overall assessment of U.S. relations with China; nearly two-thirds say relations between the two countries are generally good. Yet, a majority describes China as a competitor and few say the U.S. can trust the Asian nation.

Moreover, just one-third of Americans believe China considers the interests of other countries around the world when making foreign policy decisions. In contrast, eight-in-ten say the U.S. takes the interests of other countries into account.

Among the five expert groups surveyed, majorities share the public’s distrust of China and see that country as a competitor of the U.S. Most also say China does not consider other countries’ interests when making foreign policy decisions.

When asked whether they associate a series of positive and negative traits with the Chinese people, more than seven-in-ten among the general public say the Chinese are hardworking, competitive and inventive. Few say negative characteristics like arrogance, selfishness, rudeness and violence describe the Chinese.

China Seen as a Competitor

Most Americans see China as a competitor of the United States; 66% express this view, while about the same number describe China as a partner (16%) as say it is an enemy (15%).

The view that China is a competitor is especially widespread among college graduates. Nearly eight-in-ten (78%) describe China this way, compared with 67% of those with some college experience and 56% of those with a high school education or less.

Like the general public, experts also tend to see China as a competitor of the U.S.; about three-quarters or more across all groups describe China this way, while 22% or less say China is a partner. Virtually nobody among the expert groups labels China an enemy of the U.S.

Most Say U.S. Cannot Trust China

About two-thirds of the public (68%) say the U.S. cannot trust China too much or at all; just 26% say China can be trusted a great deal or a fair amount. Of the nine countries tested, only Pakistan is seen as less trustworthy than China – 10% of Americans say the U.S. can trust Pakistan. Saudi Arabia ranks about as low as China when it comes to the number of Americans who trust that country. Half or more say the U.S. can trust Britain (78%), Japan (62%), France (59%), Israel (56%) and India (50%).

Young people are far more likely than older respondents to see China as trustworthy. More than four-in-ten people younger than 30 say the U.S. can trust China (43%) compared with fewer than a quarter in older age groups.

Similarly, Democrats are more likely than Republicans and independents to say China can be trusted, although at least 60% across all three partisan groups say the U.S. cannot trust China. More than one-third of Democrats (36%) say China is trustworthy, compared with 24% of Republicans and 21% of independents.

Trust in China is also lacking across the five expert groups; about a third or less say the U.S. can trust China, while solid majorities of at least 65% say China cannot be trusted. In contrast, nearly all respondents across the five groups see Britain and Japan as trustworthy, and majorities say the same about France, Israel and India.

Contrary to views among the general public, half or more of government officials, retired military officers, business and trade leaders, and members of the news media say the U.S. can trust Saudi Arabia; more than four-in-ten scholars also share this view.

China’s Approach to Foreign Policy

About six-in-ten Americans (59%) say China does not take the interests of other countries around the world into account when making foreign policy decisions; just one-third say China considers the interests of other nations. In contrast, 80% say the U.S. considers other countries’ interests, while just 17% say it does not.

The view that China takes the interests of other countries into account is more common among young people; 41% of people younger than 30 offer this view, compared with one-third or less of those ages 30 to 49 (31%), 50 to 64 (33%) and 65 or older (29%).

Education is also a factor in perceptions of China’s approach to foreign policy. Only 23% of college graduates say China takes other countries’ interests into account, while 72% believe it does not. By comparison, 34% of those with some college and 40% of those with a high school education or less say China considers the interests of other countries around the world; 56% of those with some college and 54% with high school or less believe China does not take the interests of other countries into account when making foreign policy decisions.

Majorities of the expert groups surveyed also say China does not take the interests of other countries into account, although a sizable minority of scholars (41%) believe it does. Among the other four groups, fewer than three-in-ten say China considers the interests of other nations, including just 21% of business and trade leaders and former military officials. Like the public, solid majorities of experts say the U.S. takes the interests of other countries into account when making foreign policy decisions.

Chinese Seen as Hardworking and Competitive

At least seven-in-ten Americans describe the Chinese people as hardworking (93%), competitive (89%) and inventive (73%); smaller majorities also say the Chinese are nationalistic (63%) and modern (57%), while a 49%-plurality see them as sophisticated.

Fewer attribute negative traits like aggressiveness (43%), greed (40%), arrogance (36%), selfishness (31%), rudeness (28%) and violence (24%) to the Chinese people. Similarly, not many associate positive traits such as honesty (44%), tolerance (38%) and generosity (28%) with the Chinese.

Americans also think of themselves as hardworking (78%), but fewer describe the American people this way than say the same about the Chinese. On the other hand, more say Americans are modern (84%) and inventive (82%) than say the Chinese are, while about the same percentage describes the American and the Chinese people as competitive and nationalistic. Most Americans attribute positive characteristics like generosity (78%), tolerance (68%), honesty (64%) and sophistication (61%) to the American people. However, more than half also say Americans are greedy (68%), arrogant (63%), selfish (62%), aggressive (58%) and rude (51%).