How Americans see China
September 18th, 2012
12:05 PM ET

How Americans see China

By Richard Wike and Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Richard Wike is associate director of the Pew Global Attitudes Project. Bruce Stokes is director of Global Economic Attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The full survey results are available here. The views expressed are their own.

In meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao two months ago, President Barack Obama said: “Over the last several years…we have been able to really create a new model for practical and constructive and comprehensive relations between our two countries.” By early July, on the campaign trail in Ohio, he was touting his administration’s record for bringing “trade cases against China at a faster pace than the previous administration.” This was underscored by the Obama administration’s September 17 unfair trade case at the World Trade Organization against alleged Chinese subsidies of auto parts exports.

Meanwhile, the president’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, has promised that on his first day in office he will issue an executive order branding China a currency manipulator, possibly triggering a trade war. However, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on February 16, he stated that “a trade war with China is the last thing I want,” and then backed away from the threatened executive order by saying that he would designate Beijing a currency manipulatorunless China changes its ways.”

The casual observer might be excused if he or she concluded that the candidates were presenting a mixed message about the China policy they would pursue if they win in November. This paradox may simply reflect the candidates’ efforts to reconcile the imperatives of campaigning versus the constraints of governing when confronted with sharply contrasting views of China.

On the one hand, the candidates are attempting to woo voters worried about China’s rise. On the other, China experts are advising that whoever is elected president will one day have to deal constructively with Beijing.

Reconciling these often conflicting perspectives may prove one of the toughest foreign policy challenges facing the next U.S. president.

Most Americans describe relations between the U.S. and China as good, but most consider China a competitor rather than an enemy or partner, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

Indeed, when asked which country represents the greatest danger to the U.S., more Americans volunteer China (26 percent) than name any other country, including  Iran and North Korea. And about half (52 percent) view China’s emergence as a world power as a major threat to the U.S.

In particular, nearly eight in ten Americans say the large amount of U.S. debt that is held by China is a very serious problem for America; majorities also consider the loss of U.S. jobs to China (71 percent) and the U.S. trade deficit with China (61 percent) to be very serious.

But the public is also worried about China’s impact on the global environment (50 percent), cyber attacks from China (50 percent), China’s growing military power (49 percent) and China’s policies on human rights (48 percent) as major problems.

It is little wonder then that only 26 percent of the public say the U.S. can trust China.

Nevertheless, the public is divided on what to do about China: 28 percent want the next president to build a strong relationship with Beijing, 24 percent want him to be tough with China on economic and trade issues.

Obama and Romney are hearing a slightly different story from the foreign policy community, including government officials, retired military officers, business and trade leaders, scholars and the media, also surveyed by the Pew Research Center.

Like the general public, strong majorities of these experts, more than seven in ten, see China as a competitor rather than an enemy or partner.

Also, like the public, retired military officers are more likely to name China as the country that represents the greatest danger to the U.S. In contrast, Iran is cited more frequently by government officials, business and trade leaders and members of the news media.

But, for the most part, foreign affairs experts are far less concerned than the general public about issues related to China. Less than half of the retired military officers and less than a third of the other experts view China’s emergence as a world power as a major threat to the U.S.Fewer than four in ten say the loss of U.S. jobs to China, the U.S. trade deficit with China, China’s growing military power and China’s policies on human rights are very serious problems for the U.S.

Only cyber attacks from China are considered a very serious problem by at least half of the experts surveyed. Retired military officers are especially concerned.

Still, experts are not that much more trusting of Beijing than is the public. Only about a third or less say the U.S. can trust Beijing. However, they place a much higher priority on building a stronger relationship with China (62 percent versus 28 percent among the public).

The November 6 presidential election will not be determined by the candidates’ views on China. But given the public’s fairly hawkish views on China, both Obama and Romney will not shy away from sounding tough on Beijing. And, after election day, whoever is the next president is likely to hear more cautionary advice from foreign policy experts.

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Topics: Barack Obama • China • Mitt Romney • United States

soundoff (249 Responses)
  1. Bill

    Nothing against Chinese people, it all about commerce. Their cost of living, labor laws, labor pay is so out of whack with our standards that we cannot compete with them and never will. China put our manufacturing and labor out of business and we cannot continue this type of trade no mater who is elected president.

    September 20, 2012 at 5:10 am | Reply
  2. Maxwellstar

    This article is not about China but America and its opinions. These hawkish views are been brought on by their own insecurity about their future. If America didn't have the massive debts, falling living standards, wars, corruption and moral decay where if you have money you can get away with anything. Then people will have a more positive view of live and the world including China. No amount of positive or negative reporting on China will take away this feeling of insecurity that the Americans have about them selfs.

    September 20, 2012 at 7:34 am | Reply
  3. CowBB

    Americans see China as an idiot who buy my rubbish bonds.

    September 21, 2012 at 6:51 am | Reply
  4. amy

    China is a good country, whether you believe it or not, any of my letter

    September 22, 2012 at 12:37 am | Reply
  5. Skeptic

    How Americans see China?
    Over crowded, dirty, lack of social freedom, unimaginative, uncreative, boring, poor.

    September 22, 2012 at 8:50 am | Reply
  6. Bruce Rubin

    China moved a billion people out of absolute poverty in 20 years.This is probably one of the most incredible economic and political accomplishments of human civilization. This was done with Western technology and innovation. We will find out if it is appreciated over the next 20 years.

    September 22, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Reply
    • FINALLY!

      ......You do realize that the West robbed China to make it poor, right, google 8 western countries invading China? If it weren't for the West robbing soo much of the world it wouldn't get rich.
      And for the record, China didn't get rich because of western inventions and innovation but through the country's own mentality of dedication and hard work. Why the heck do Americans like to claim credit for everything?! You do realize like Canada, you're a new player on the world stage, and the glory that you attained was through aggressive policies like slavery.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Reply
      • Lisa Soon

        What about China moving millions of people, many by force to built that stupid Three Gorges Dam. The Chinese government can generally build whatever project it likes because the government owns the land, labor is cheap and protests against the system can not be organized. China builds where it wants, when they want. And they move extremely fast. What is less obvious though is the social cost of ordinary people in term of lost land and environmental problems as these projects are rammed down the throats of citizens with little they can do to stop them. Just take a look at "China's Ghost Cities" to see how wasteful they really are. Was it worth all the effort as the dam is extremely polluted. Hundreds of factories, mines and waste dumps were submerged over the years and is having problems now with landslides. Who knows how many cities were destroyed. Not to mention thousands of years of history now under water. The full environmental impact may not be known for decades nor does China likely care. This doesn't sound like a China which gives a crap about it own people nor it's history. :(

        October 10, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • JoeMa

      Yeah by stealing intellectual rights and faking products. What a human accomplishment

      October 8, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Reply
  7. krehator

    Through a TV made in China.

    September 23, 2012 at 4:14 am | Reply
  8. Electromag

    Anti-gun CNN would cover this China story if they used a gun. See story below !

    Sept 21 2012
    NANNING City,Guangxi China (Xinhua) - Three children were killed, another 13 injured on Friday afternoon by a man wielding a wood chopper in Pingnan county in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, said local authorities.
    On 2:06 p.m. Friday, local police received the report that a man rushed into a residence and slashed 16 children, who were on the noon care, with a wood chopper, according to the county government.
    All injured have been rushed to hospital. Three children died after the emergency rescue.
    The suspect, surnamed Wu, has been arrested by police.
    The cause of the incident is under investigation.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:55 am | Reply
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    Useful information. Fortunate me I discovered your website accidentally, and I am stunned why this coincidence didn't took place in advance! I bookmarked it.

    September 26, 2012 at 5:43 am | Reply
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    October 4, 2012 at 6:04 am | Reply
  11. cheq

    if you have never been to china, shut up.

    October 7, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Reply
  12. JoeMa

    You cannot trust China. The only straight thing about China is their hair.

    October 8, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Reply
  13. CyberPhoneix

    Sure we trust China. If you trust swimming in a pool full of piranhas that is lol. First we have China trying to buy US Windfarms. Then in a national security intelligence probe showing Huawei and ZTE (Largest Telecom Companies in China) which are now blacklisted. A recent government probe investigation concluded that the risks associated with Huawei's and ZTE's provision of equipment to U.S. critical infrastructure could undermine core U.S. national-security interest. The report says the companies failed to provide responsive answers about their relationships and support by the Chinese government, and detailed information about their operations in the U.S. It said Huawei, in particular, failed to provide thorough information, including on its corporate structure, history, financial arrangements and management. China last year also attempted to buy Facebook which is truly comical since Facebook is banned in China lol. Along with every other social networking site. Sure China wants to control Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit and ever other social media outlet out there. It is in an effort to keep it's dirty laundry from the masses. They want control of Chinese media & outlets outside of China as well which are critical of the government. Sorry China but you are a little late to the party lol. Our government already does enough spying on us and we don't need your help!! Thank you anyways though as it is nice to know someone else cares haha.

    No Chinese company and I mean no company has power over the state. Most are subsidized by the government so they have a hand in everything they do. If that means putting surveillance on someone or steeling your personal information they will do so without hesitation. We learned this first hand when a large security breach was carried out at Google China's Headquarters last year. It was later discovered that the Chinese government was involved with the breach which led to Google pulling up shop and leaving China. This is the same China that is wanting to buy a stake in our telecommunications industry. Can we really afford to let this happen? Building back doors through network hardware encoded into our systems is pretty clever and likely is already in place in some of our devices? What better way to spy on the entire US population then by using these covert methods. I used to have respect for China but now I see them from who they really are. Neither a country which cares for it's own people no a country which understands how a free market economy works. Time China join modern civilization and not live in the 13th century. Until then I say we trust nothing coming out of China and should be extremely vigilant.

    October 9, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Reply
  14. Viking.Yang

    I am Chinese and live in Wuhan,the city which will be Chinese Chicago in 10 years.I've never been abroad. But i know the world well,includding Uncle SAM. i do love the US, your culture ,your DEMO,your music and movies.the chinese young peope like me are so many. for example, I love Mariah carey, Usher,Colin Farrel,Kevin Spacey,Edward barton...a lot of american stars.and i know your history well,and I know how George Washington and Thomas Jefferson is great in your history,'cause we learn these in our High school textbooks. the number of young people like me in china is over 0.3billion,i guess. On the contrary,you american people know us a little. By the way,tell Mariah Carey I like her when some of u meet her. THESE are my favorite movies:Big Fish, Phone Both,the Lenged of Fall,There Will Be Blood,A.i,American History X,the Green Hill,Mulholland Drive......I can tell a lot. i love the director David`Linch,and the R&B singer Kay.B. LOVE HIS SOUND.
    I have read all of you guy's speach about China,'cause we all learn English in China for about 9 years,by the way ,in the fluence of american movies,chinese young people like American accent more than British accent.I feel funny,and all of you guys are fuuny people no matter you like china or hate it. 'cause I think that's because you don't know China,you dont know what the truth is and what is happenning here.we can understand your difficuty ,but you cann't understand ours. most of educated people after-1980 are fond of US style democracy,law system,The system of three powers,Equality,freedom of expression and so on ,and we want to be that kind of country, but we know that's a big projcet, a long term,we must have a plan.Of course we hate despotism and political corruption.we also want to be a perfect modern country. But we exactly know we can not take it by ONE STEP. so you can criticise us,but shouldn't be hostile to us.you should realise that china is a big country,with complex history,faced with so many problem,so we need to improve step by step.give china and ppc some time.History not reverse.we will not let that happen.

    October 31, 2012 at 3:32 am | Reply
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