Despite the confidence of China’s public, the Asian power’s elite is becoming less certain that the country will surpass the US as the top global power, a major survey said on Thursday.
A wide-ranging poll of opinion in the two countries showed that most Chinese and Americans hold positive views of the other nation despite the frequent tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
However, the study, released by the Committee of 100, a Chinese-American group, revealed sharp gaps between public and elite opinion in both countries — especially on the question of whether China will become the premier power.
More than 58 percent of the Chinese public said that their country will overtake the US as the leading power in the next 20 years, a figure that has inched up since the previous time the survey was taken in 2007.
However, elite opinion went in the opposite direction. While 53 percent of business leaders in 2007 predicted China’s rise to the top, only 37 percent said so this year. Among Chinese opinion leaders, the figure declined from 31 percent to 23 percent over the five years.
In another striking finding, nearly 75 percent of Chinese opinion leaders gave a negative assessment of their own government’s handling of the US relationship, up sharply from 37 percent in 2007.
Coordinators of the survey said it was difficult to pinpoint exact reasons for the swings in Chinese opinion, but pointed to an increasing openness to criticize the government.
“I can only speculate that it may show some impatience or some high expectations. The world is getting more complex and there are simply many issues to sort out,” said Jeremy Wu, a statistician at George Washington University and co-chair of the project.
Most experts forecast that China will become larger than the US economically in the coming decade, although debate is rife on whether Beijing seeks to emulate Washington’s globe-spanning political and military role.
The project carried out 4,153 interviews in China and 1,400 in the US in December and January. Harris Interactive carried out the US poll, while Horizon Research Consultancy Group conducted the survey in China.
Despite often bumpy ties between the two nations, the survey found that favorable opinion of China has increased in the US and that views of the US in China have held steady.
However, US policymakers badly misread public opinion on China. Only 20 percent of US elites, when asked to describe the general US view, believed that the public held a positive view of China. In reality, 55 percent of the US public said that they saw China favorably.
Project co-chair Frank Wu, chancellor and dean of the University of California Hastings College of Law, said the survey showed that US politicians were miscalculating with advertisements that have raised fears about China.
“It suggests that campaign rhetoric that is designed to inflame feelings ... is an effort to turn popular opinion against China, not a reflection of popular opinion. Popular opinion is actually much more positive to China than opinion leaders realize,” he said.
In China, 59 percent of the general public had a positive impression of the US. The figure soared to above 90 percent among elites in China, with many saying that visits to the US made their opinions more favorable.
The survey also showed a gap on issues of concern to the two nations. In China, public and opinion leaders listed Taiwan as a top concern in US relations. The US is legally committed to providing for the defense of Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory.