While the Chinese and US publics and elites hold generally favourable views of each other, distrust between them also persists, according to a new “mirror” survey of both countries released in Washington on Monday. The survey, entitled “Hope & Fear: American and Chinese Attitudes Towards Each Other”, found that a majority of US citizens consider China’s growing economic power as at least a “potential threat” to US interests, while Chinese were most concerned about Washington’s intentions regarding Taiwan and preventing their country from becoming a world power.

A majority of Chinese also believe their country will overtake Washington as the world’s leading superpower within the next 20 years, while only one in five US citizens believe Beijing will reach that status. About half of the US public believes Washington will retain its leading position, while less than one in four Chinese agree with that view. The survey, which asked the same questions of respondents on a range of issues in both countries during August and September, was sponsored by the Committee of 100 (C-100), an NGO made up of Chinese-American leaders who broadly support engagement between the two countries.

In addition to interviewing members of the general public, the survey also identified discrete groups of “opinion leaders” and “business leaders” in both countries, as well as “Congressional staffers” in the US who help determine elite opinion. The survey’s release comes at a moment of relative stability in ties between the two nations, which have cooperated closely in recent years on such hot-button issues as North Korea’s nuclear programme. Despite the presence in the current administration of a number of “China hawks”, including former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, George W Bush has, if anything, tried to solidify ties with Beijing over the last seven years.

Still, tensions have persisted. Washington has pushed hard for Beijing to address its huge bilateral trade deficit in part by revaluing the yuan and by stricter enforcement of intellectual property rights. It has also criticised China occasionally for not being more forthcoming about its military budget and strategic planning and for its relations with so-called “rogue” states, including Sudan, Burma, Iran and Zimbabwe.

Beijing has its own complaints, including US arms sales to Taiwan and Washington’s efforts to draw India, Japan, Vietnam, Australia and other countries on the Chinese periphery into an informal geo-strategic alliance as a check to Beijing’s expanding military reach. The survey found that publics in both nations hold mostly favourable views of each other.

Sixty percent of Chinese respondents held generally favourable views of the US, while only one in five had an unfavourable view. In the US, the split was 52 per cent favourable toward China; 45 per cent, unfavourable. The views of Chinese business and opinion leaders were significantly more positive about the US than the public at large — up to 94 per cent for business leaders.

The views of their elite counterparts in the US, on the other hand, tended to be consistent with those of the US public, with the exception of Congressional staffers, only 35 per cent of whom held favourable opinions of China, while 62 per cent said their views were unfavourable. — IPS