A recent poll conducted by Gallup found out that most Americans consider China to be the greatest rival in the U.S, a clear show of how there is growing public alarm towards the danger that represents the Beijing regime to national security. The poll showed that 45% of those surveyed considered China to be the greatest rival to America in the world stage, while Russia was in a distant second place (26%) and North Korea occupying the third position with a mere 9%.
Interestingly, this trend increased exponentially from last year, when it was only 23% of those surveyed thought China was the greatest rival of the U.S in the world stage. Meaning that the amount of people who viewed China in that way almost doubled in a single year, most likely would be a result of the COVID pandemic that started to spread to the world, which most Americans blame the chinese government for occuring.
The view towards China has worsened significantly throughout the years, with negative views rising from 34-35% near 2010 to an astonishing 73% in a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center on July last year. The continuous rise of China’s bad reputation in the eyes of the American people will surely have deep effects on the way elected officials react to Beijing, giving fertile political ground for politicians choosing a more confrontational approach towards the actions coming from the middle kingdom.
Mistrust towards China is bipartisan and global
Negative views on China are not exclusive to the Republican Party, as Independents and Democrats also have experienced a decline on the percentage of positive views to Beijing. With only 22% of Independents and 27% of Democrats having any type of positive opinion on China, although Republicans are the group that holds the worst image to China of all three (only 10%), according to another Gallup poll conducted last month.
There are some great partisan differences, however, on perceptions on how dangerous is China to the country and its national security. An overwhelming 76% of Republicans viewed China as the most important enemy to the U.S, while only 43% of Independents and 23% of Democrats shared the same opinion. Meaning that while there is a general level of mistrust and concern towards China, there is less consensus on how high they rank when analyzing threats to our national security.
Americans do agree that Chinese economic growth is one of the key aspects endangering American interests. 63% of those surveyed believed that China’s economic rise (which some project it could surpass the U.S in 2035) was a critical threat to vital national interests, including 81% of Republicans, 59% of Independents and 56 of Democrats, and an additional 30% think that such economic rise is an important threat to the U.S.
Animosity towards China is not only an American phenomenon. With negative views growing all across the world, reaching historic highs in Spain, Germany, UK, France, South Korea, Italy, Canada, Sweden Australia, Netherlands, and Japan. Despite the many political, cultural, and economic differences across the western world, it appears that holding a apathetic opinion to Beijing is one of the few things that are uniting the developed world.
Implications of public opinion to international strategy
Although there is growing concern towards the diplomatic and economic power that china currently possess, this is not the only variable taken into account by decision-makers in Washington DC and Beijing. There are military, strategic, economic, and political considerations the nation’s leaders need to evaluate in order to draw their strategy.
The U.S will need to find the adequate approach to deal with a growing China, setting priorities and developing a coherent strategy that is able to effectively counteract China and that is capable of surviving changes in government, garner some consensus in the public, and survive the attack of special interests that are looking for a lenient approach to China. A difficult task indeed.
Trump’s administration was famous for its hard positioning against Beijing, tomorrow’s meeting between public officials of the US and China in Alaska will give us a glimpse on the Administration’s approach to this new power competition developing between both countries. Will Biden continue a adversarial approach? Will he seek a multilateral solution with America’s allies? or will he try and implement a new detente with China?
China, on the other hand, knows that its reputation has suffered some significant blows over the last few years, affecting its diplomatic capabilities in the near future. Geopolitical power is not only won with brute force or economic might, it is also dependent on the capacity of influencing other actors by attracting them (soft power).
China knows that it needs to develop a better image to the world, which is why they have moved aggressively at providing vaccines to Latin America, with the intention to shape its image from the responsibles of the pandemic to the ones who helped developing nations to overcome it. A strategy that could be effective especially when the West is fighting among itself for keeping the supply of vaccines to itself.
The terrible humanitarian and economic cost caused by COVID showed Americans and people around the world the risk that China represents, however, concern will not be enough to solve the issue. Cooperation, multilateralism and a clear strategy will be needed, let’s hope decision-makers get the memo.