China or America? Indians pick U.S.
April 4th, 2014
12:52 AM ET

China or America? Indians pick U.S.

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is the director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

During the Cold War, the Indian government attempted to position itself between Moscow and Washington by claiming leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement. As Indians head to the polls over the next six weeks, their country again finds itself in a world with two preeminent powers: this time, China and the United States.

And the Indian public is fairly clear where its sympathies lie: with America. Of course, how such attitudes will influence the views of the next Indian government remains to be seen. But, for now at least, there appears to be no evidence of broad anti-Americanism on the sub-continent.

This might come as a surprise to some. After all, the favorable views of the United States came despite the fact that the Pew Research Center survey measuring sentiment was conducted in India in the immediate aftermath of the controversial December 2013 arrest and strip-search of India’s female deputy consul general in New York on charges of visa fraud. Yet by more than three-to-one (56 percent to 15 percent), Indians express a favorable rather than unfavorable view of the United States.

At the same time, Indians were somewhat skeptical about their massive neighbor China, a country that more than half of Indians view as a major threat to the country. Roughly a third of the public has a favorable view of Beijing, with only 13 percent holding a very favorable opinion. In contrast, about four-in-ten have an unfavorable opinion of the People’s Republic, including 22 percent who said they held a very unfavorable opinion.

Indians of all backgrounds have a more favorable view of the United States than of China, with more than half of both men and women saying they saw America in a positive light compared with around a third who see China that way. In addition, there was no generation gap with regard to views on the U.S. and on China – all age groups favored America. Almost three quarters of Indians with some college education or more have a positive view of Uncle Sam, compared with about four-in-ten with at least some college who see China in that light. Similarly, nearly two-thirds of high-income Indians favor the United States compared with about one-third who had a positive opinion of China.

Meanwhile, Indians are more than twice as likely to see America as a partner (36 percent) than as an enemy (16 percent), while more than a third (37 percent) of the Indian public considers China to be an enemy.

So what is behind the skepticism toward China? The distrust may have its roots in past military confrontations. Almost two-thirds of the Indian public view China’s growing military power as a bad thing for India, while just 19 percent said Beijing’s increasing military might is good for India.

In addition, India has long had border disputes with China. A war was fought along their mutual frontier in 1962. And, in recent years, there have been confrontations along the Chinese border with Jammu and Kashmir as well as in Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state that China claims as part of Tibet. So it comes as little surprise that seven-in-ten Indians say territorial disputes between India and China are a problem for the country, including 45 percent who say they are a very big problem.

Overall, by nearly four-to-one, Indians surveyed said they see the United States today as the world’s leading economic power rather than China. However, looking to the future, a third of Indians said China has already or will eventually replace the United States as the world’s leading superpower. Yet Indians are less likely than publics in many countries to see China’s rising hegemony as inevitable, according to a separate Pew Research Center survey in spring 2013.

Holding the opinions they do about China and the United States, it may come as no surprise that 42 percent of Indians say it is more important to have strong ties with Washington than with Beijing – only 9 percent hold the view that it would be better to have a closer relationship with China.

That said, foreign affairs are unlikely to be on the minds of most Indian voters when they go to the polls. The economy, perceptions of political dysfunction and corruption, and the desire for a change in leadership are their primary concerns, according to the Pew Research survey. But whoever becomes prime minister will govern a people who are far more disposed toward a positive relationship with Washington than toward Beijing.

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Topics: China • India • United States

soundoff (56 Responses)
  1. jeff

    The relationship between India and the United States is key to a stable Asian continent.

    April 4, 2014 at 1:20 am |
    • Kashyap

      Hey Jeff, yes you are right! China is on the Pakistan's side on every possible issue. They do all the bad things to harm India.

      April 4, 2014 at 2:35 am |
      • Banlas Theway

        You are just too naïve. For your information, Pakistan is as close to U.S than to China.

        Please get your ostrich head out from the mud.

        April 4, 2014 at 10:38 am |
      • j. von hettlingen

        In Asia, realpolitik counts more than anything else. Natural allies are rare. National interests prevail. Neither China nor India has been able to forge close ties with their neighbours, and the relationship is merely one of convenience. While India follows what China does, China focuses on the world stage.

        April 4, 2014 at 11:15 am |
      • GodDoesNotExist

        What a bull. Pakistan has always been in the American camp openly. Richard Nixon described the Indians in the most accurate words. I just dont want to put those words here as it is not my intention to offend anyone. Suffice to say that Indians are quite opportunistic.

        April 7, 2014 at 2:18 am |
    • ex-expat


      April 4, 2014 at 6:08 am |
  2. Kashyap

    It comes as no surprise. The college i studied here in Bangalore can be a best example!

    April 4, 2014 at 2:34 am |
  3. ✠RZ✠

    Could India and China become the new Middle East? A massive long term conventional war could wipe out a bit of their over population and provided for multi-billions in badly needed arms sales to both Washington and Moscow. But it could seriously backfire if anyone might suspect that Washington and Moscow were in cahoots.

    April 4, 2014 at 4:19 am |
    • AA

      sick thought process

      April 4, 2014 at 6:03 am |
      • ✠RZ✠

        Very sick indeed, but what's much worse is reality.

        April 4, 2014 at 7:41 am |
  4. Dilip

    During Nehru era, while Indians were singing Hind Chin bhai bhai ( Indians & Chinese are brothers), China back-stabbed India by unexpectedly waging war on India. India lost the war and large areas of land (Aksai Chin). It is for this reason that India does not and will not trust China.

    April 4, 2014 at 4:34 am |
    • Banlas Theway

      Did you ever read the latest report that the cause of India-China border war is due to Nehru's forward policy. Of course, I believe you are just uneducated not to know

      April 4, 2014 at 10:41 am |
    • Boon

      Guess you haven't been reading much lately abt the war....the link below iis for your reference and some thoughts....

      April 5, 2014 at 9:16 am |
    • Roy

      What matters is who won the war.

      April 6, 2014 at 6:30 pm |
  5. Anu

    Interesting article, but what would be more interesting " Russia or America, and what do the Indian's pick then?"
    Having gone to War with China in the early 1960s, it would be difficult for India and Indian's to do a complete volte-face and prefer China over America. When one fights a war with another country it is inevitable that there would after effects and underlining tensions.
    And apart from that, there have been in military skirmishes between the two countries in the recent years, so it is understandable that the Indian's choose America over China.
    What would be more interesting would be a study of Russia or America.... Here there would a a play of youth, history, past ties and age of the target audience.

    April 4, 2014 at 5:38 am |
    • anythingnewyork

      It could also be because Indians are doing rather well in the US. Also, average Chinese probably are not as friendly to Indians as average Americans. Average Chinese judge people by the color of their skin as well. And less Chinese are able to relate themselves to Indians.

      April 5, 2014 at 10:36 am |
  6. dhananjay naidu

    india should first should be more of a regional player and should be actively participate in regional level where we are loosing ground to china in almost all nebouring countries, the indian governament at center is not taking any steps to this direction in spite of our close association with america/russia This should be the priority to the new governamnet forming at the center in comming months..

    April 4, 2014 at 6:37 am |
  7. banasy©

    Banasy was here.

    April 4, 2014 at 8:49 am |
  8. banasy©

    @ anu.
    I hope your last name does not start with an "s".

    April 4, 2014 at 8:51 am |
    • Jeff "banasy©" Roem

      ...otherwise I'd be the first in line to lick it.

      April 4, 2014 at 12:27 pm |
  9. HI

    China is already building dams that will divert massive amounts of India's water. Google "China India water." How the Chinese think they can do that without conflict is beyond me.

    April 4, 2014 at 9:26 am |
    • Abdullah Naseer

      and wts about india? india is building dams on pakistan water.

      April 7, 2014 at 6:43 am |
  10. palintwit

    Last night I dreamt we live in a Palin-free world. Then I woke up. ** sigh **

    April 4, 2014 at 11:42 am |
    • Namak

      I remember that Palin paid a trip to India to tell them how much they and America hate China.

      April 5, 2014 at 2:04 am |
  11. bobcat2u

    Why would India "not" choose the US over China ? I mean, they have already been given a majority of the jobs that were once in the US. They own a majority of our gas stations and hotels. Our medical profession is being taken over by them. This could definitely go a lot farther, but I'm tired of giving examples. I guess what I am trying to say is, they already own most of what used to be America, so why would they decide otherwise.

    April 4, 2014 at 12:12 pm |
    • Jeff "banasy©" Roem

      what happened to your hat

      April 4, 2014 at 12:32 pm |
      • bobcat2u

        Weather is starting to get to warm right now.

        April 4, 2014 at 12:52 pm |
    • Namak

      So true. Western companies tend to give CEO, executive jobs to Indians and most have no Oriental executives, but there are many Oriental companies that have foreign executives.

      April 5, 2014 at 2:00 am |
  12. Anjaan

    The people of India have great respect for the great American people ... but the Indians are also aware of the fact that the US State Dept. is perhaps India's biggest enemy ... even bigger than China ... the people of India are aware that in fighting Pakistan, India is actually fighting against the US State Dept. ... the actual force behind Pakistan ...

    April 4, 2014 at 5:35 pm |
    • Irfan

      Anjaan mat banoo... Indian bhai sahib!!!
      Compare yourself with China with same size and strength.
      Pakistan is 7 times small size but you Indians are very petty by nature and still need help from US????

      April 5, 2014 at 3:32 pm |
  13. sand

    when that nuke implodes over Dublin Ireland and a huge release electro magnetic radiation boils away Ireland in a huge sea of flames and turns that ugly place into basalt rock lava rock then your mothers will learn that Iran is better then any country in the world.

    April 4, 2014 at 7:08 pm |
  14. chrissy

    Lol @ sand, did you have a bad st patricks day or what? Otherwise what does Ireland have to do with the price of tea in china?

    April 5, 2014 at 12:45 am |
  15. Kenny Rogers

    Good post sand,thank you.
    Hi banasy, dazzle, and chrissy. Ya'll will always be my girls.

    April 5, 2014 at 4:47 am |
    • Wanda Miller

      Don't think so, bub.

      April 7, 2014 at 1:26 pm |
  16. Kum Pao

    Just wondering what are those 19 percent is thinking on why they love China. In the History of India. China always look down on India and discriminate India.

    April 6, 2014 at 10:10 am |
    • Anjaan

      There was time in history, when China would send scholars to study in Indian universities ... Fa Hien and Huen Tsang are two such prominent Chinese scholars, who chronicled Indian history of that time ...

      April 6, 2014 at 7:17 pm |
  17. Rakesh Sinha

    This is a CIA propaganda piece! Trying to show the American thuggery in arresting and strip searching the Indian diplomat ha s not dented American image. Also trying to show the people's reaction and the government's reaction are different.

    It is a big myth and a lie China has harmed India more than US. China has done very little for Pakistan, the real sponsor of Pakistan against India has been USA! sponsoring, nurturing a religious exclusivist terrorist state against India for 67 years through 100s of billions of dollars of aid and weaponry. Super power of hypocrisy has done everything in its capacity to undermine the world's largest, most pluralistic democracy. Why? because India refused to be its poodle.

    I doubt my comment will be posted in this propaganda piece, just trying.

    April 6, 2014 at 10:36 am |
    • Anjaan

      Could not agree more ... this is plain truth ... but the issue here is ... does the US State Dept. think that the people of India are idiots ... ??

      April 6, 2014 at 2:58 pm |
      • jack2

        Who ever said the people of India are idiots? No one. Every country has their smart ones and idiots. You are with the idiots

        April 8, 2014 at 4:42 pm |
    • jack2

      That's just your opinion out of millions. Where's the facts? I think you are just jealous.

      April 8, 2014 at 4:41 pm |
      • Rakesh Sinha

        Jealous of what??? you are funny.
        That you wasted 100 billion dollars on a religious exclusivist terrorist state? Hope you are not serious.
        What I wrote is the general impression in India.

        April 8, 2014 at 9:06 pm |
  18. Joshua Yang

    it doesn't make sense to not have a good relationship with your neighbor. for individual families, if you don't like your neighbor, you probably could just move away. but how could you move a country?

    April 6, 2014 at 12:13 pm |
    • Anjaan

      India has picked the great people of America ... not the US State dept ... !! ... Rest assured my friend ... the people of India recognize that the US State Dept. is India's biggest threat and enemy ... !!

      April 6, 2014 at 3:03 pm |
      • Eric

        That's awesome.

        April 6, 2014 at 6:57 pm |
      • jack2

        i know and you know it's not your biggest threat and enemy. We may not have the brightest ones on power right now but the countries objective is freedom for everyone in the world. Why is that so bad?

        April 8, 2014 at 4:56 pm |
  19. Roy

    Again, Pew Research Center has just wasted time and money to confirm what everyone already knew. What's the use of it?

    April 6, 2014 at 6:37 pm |
  20. TP

    India is a swing state, if its interest challenged, can swing from friend to foe, more importantly India always choose the Middle path, We need china and US equally.

    April 7, 2014 at 7:33 am |
  21. ravi

    I just hope India gets taken over by a western power soon than later .

    neither is India able to govern itself, nor progress. Over the years since the British have left things have only gone worse with crumbling infrastructure, violence, communal violence, zero law and order, inequality etc.

    With almost every Indian either hating another or being jealous of the others progress, India can never be America in the next 10,000 years.

    April 7, 2014 at 2:13 pm |
  22. jack2

    The human rights in this nation are better than or equal to any nation. To be for Russia or china would be pure ignorance or just hate of America

    April 8, 2014 at 4:39 pm |
    • Rakesh Sinha

      Looks like you are a clueless "frog in the well" idiot! LOL
      Google is your friend, education is free. "Democracy, freedom" are all empty slogans for American Thuggery. USA has undermined countless democracies and sponsored countless dictatorships all over the world.

      April 8, 2014 at 9:11 pm |
  23. jack2

    Humans bring so much baggage with them. Lets strip away the nationality and race and all you have left is humans trying to make the best of what they have to work with. That being said you need a government that allows you to have freedom.
    I'll go with the government that allows that freedom.

    April 8, 2014 at 4:52 pm |
  24. no surprises there

    When China becomes democratic and CCP thug rule in Beijing ends and Tibet becomes free, this picture will change. Till then, US and India will be strange bedfellows democracy is their mutual child.

    April 27, 2014 at 4:53 pm |
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