The results of a new wide-ranging survey on U.S.-China relations were released Thursday by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The questions were targeted at multiple segments of the populations of both countries, including the general public and various elites (government officials, journalists, academics). The goal was to find out, as tensions rise between the two states, just how public opinion in both plays a role in their relationship.
According to the report, a big takeaway was that there exists substantial distrust on both sides and among the different groups. But even so, Carnegie points out
Despite this lack of mutual trust, only small minorities of all respondents in both countries saw the other country as an enemy. A majority of U.S. and Chinese elites and the American public as well as a plurality of the Chinese public viewed the other country as a competitor. Substantial minorities of all respondents saw the other country as a partner.
One striking difference was in how the two countries viewed their role in global affairs. While majorities in both the United States and China thought that “their own country should play a shared leadership role in the international system,” the balance of that “sharing” was a point of divergence. Americans largely thought their country should continue to be the dominant world leader while Chinese felt there should be a more equitable partnership.
The Washington Post, in its early report on the findings, made a special note of this:
In fact, surprisingly sizable minorities among China’s government elites — 21 percent — and military elites — 12 percent — said China should play no worldwide leadership role at all. By contrast, not a single respondent in the U.S. elites surveyed said the United States should play no leadership role.
While the results are interesting, and certainly valuable for shedding some light on what can be sometimes opaque public opinion picture in China, the Post notes a few caveats that make definitive comparisons a bit problematic.
Ultimately, they were able to survey only military scholars in China, who were often members of the People’s Liberation Army but did not include any operational or retired personnel or officers. On the American side, retired military officers were interviewed.
The Chinese government officials surveyed were primarily provincial and municipal officials and did not include many central government officials. By comparison, the U.S. government elites surveyed consisted of current officials at the national level, mostly from the executive branch.
So there might be some good lessons here, and it’s a good first cut at what could be an important gauge of public sentiment in the years to come, but take it with a helping of salt for now.
[photo credit: thewamphyri]