Ahead of the first state visit to the United States by Chinese President Xi Jinping this month, a new poll finds a majority of Americans troubled by the size of U.S. debt held by China and the perception that China benefits from U.S. job losses. Not far behind are concerns over China’s involvement in cyberattacks and its growing military power.
The Pew Research Center’s poll of 1,003 Americans, conducted between April 13 and May 3 indicates that, despite China’s slowing economy, a majority of those surveyed view China as an economic threat. Eighty-nine percent say they take the amount of U.S. debt, $1.27 trillion, held by China somewhat or very seriously.
An equal percentage believes China benefits from the loss of U.S. jobs. About half (52 percent) consider China’s trade surplus with the United States, $31.2 billion as of July, a very serious problem.
University of Chicago Chinese specialist Dali Yang said the survey is further evidence of long running negative views held by Americans of China.
"So, this is actually not unusual. In many ways, it’s still business as usual except some issues are new, especially the cyberattacks. Overall, since 1989, public opinions of Americans about China have been reasonably negative and that has been going on for more than two decades now," said Yang.
But, Dali Yang pointed out, the number of Americans who view China favorably in the poll actually increased slightly from 35 percent to 38 percent. He thinks the survey reveals that Americans, although currently enjoying a relatively low unemployment rate, still look back to the days when many jobs left for China.
"And, they (the Americans) think, ‘ah, China is the place where all the jobs have gone.’ The irony is that China is actually losing jobs to other developing countries nowadays because living costs and labor costs have risen in China," said Yang.
As for the debt, Dali Yang said, China is actually putting its trust in the United States to manage its debt and the Chinese, he added, still view America as the land of opportunity.
The Pew survey reveals that even though economic issues continue to shape much of American public opinion about China, there is slightly less concern about these perceived threats than there was three years ago.
On security matters, Ankit Panda, associate editor of the Asia/Pacific current events publication The Diplomat, expresses surprise that only about two-thirds of those questioned viewed tensions between mainland China and Taiwan as very serious or serious.
"Taiwan is the primary war-fighting scenario that the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) sees for itself. In fact, the most likely conflict China might be involved in the near future, in my opinion, [is] over the Taiwan Strait. Yet, Americans seem not to be concerned over that," said Panda.
He said that will be a matter of concern among the people of Taiwan, especially policymakers. The survey was released as Taiwan conducted week-long military drills designed to repel a Chinese invasion of the island.
The Pew survey was conducted before revelations in June that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which holds personal information on millions of current and retired U.S. federal workers, had been targeted by cyberattacks suspected to have originated in China. Fifty-four percent of those asked viewed cyberattacks from China as a very serious problem. Panda said he expects that number to increase in future surveys.
"We’ve already seen several US businesses, primarily in the technology sector, meet with the Obama Administration to express their concerns about Chinese cybersecurity threats, and I think after the hack earlier this year at the Office of Personnel Management, which is unprecedented in its scale, I think we will also see the cyberattack issue become more prevalent in how Americans perceive the Chinese threat," said Panda.
Roughly half of the respondents expressed concern over China’s human rights record, its environmental impact and growing military power.
China has already become an issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential contest with Republicans the most concerned about China. Seventy-seven percent of Republicans view U.S. debt held by China as a very serious problem compared with 60 percent of Democrats.
Sixty-five percent of Republicans see cyberattacks from China as a very serious problem compared with 49 percent of Democrats. However, Democrats remain concerned about human rights in China and its impact on the environment.
The survey found that negative assessments of China are more prevalent among older Americans, aged 50 and up, while just 39 percent hold this view among those under the age of 30.