What do Americans Think of China?

Living with the DragonWith Hu Jintao visiting the United States this week, Barack Obama will have to navigate a variety of both international and domestic issues. How does China’s rise as an economic and military power affect the American public? Conventional wisdom often suggests that Americans are wary of China.

However, Benjamin I. Page and Tao Xie, authors of Living with the Dragon: How the American Public Views the Rise of China, argue otherwise. Based on extensive polling and analysis of Americans’ attitudes, the authors conclude that Americans are by-and-large moderate in their views and favor cooperation with China but still have some concerns.

The authors write:

In the economic realm, we saw that most Americans now recognize that China’s economy is likely to grow to equal the size of the U.S. economy and is likely to do so rather quickly—perhaps within twenty or thirty years. Reactions to that prospect tend toward the negative. And many Americans—though happy to get inexpensive goods from China—worry about the quality and safety of those goods, about China’s trade practices (widely seen as “unfair”), and especially about the impact of trade and investment with China on the jobs and wages of American workers. Yet there is no evidence so far of an upsurge in protectionist sentiment, just support for measures like environmental and workplace safety provisions in trade agreements plus opposition to major investments in the United States by Chinese or other sovereign wealth funds.

When it comes to China’s military capabilities and world influence, many Americans are concerned. The average American has not been very favorably impressed by China’s diplomatic activities and would prefer that China have less rather than more influence in the world. Most would like the United States to remain the world’s only superpower, and a substantial minority of Americans think that the development of China as a world power constitutes a “critical threat” to the vital interest of the United States….

Most Americans are uncomfortable with China’s record on democracy and would like to see it improve….Yet most Americans assign a rather low priority to promoting human rights or spreading democracy abroad as goals of U.S. foreign policy. Few want to disrupt economic or diplomatic relations with China for those purposes.

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