Large majorities of residents of South Korea, the Philippines and Singapore all expressed significant concerns about the impact of heightened tensions between the U.S. and China, with many worried that a geopolitical confrontation between the two superpowers could lead to deterioration of their own national security, according to a new survey released this week.
The survey, conducted by the Eurasia Group Foundation, found that in general, the U.S. is held in much higher esteem than China, with 70% of respondents across the three countries reporting a positive view of the U.S., while only 34% said the same of China.
However, the results were highly varied among countries, with a majority of respondents in Singapore reporting a negative view of the U.S. and a positive view of China. The opposite was true in South Korea and the Philippines.
Significant numbers of people in all three countries report having positive feelings toward both the U.S. and China, contributing to the difficulty many face when they feel they are being forced to “choose sides” in the face of great power competition. Across all three countries, 56.9% of respondents agreed with the statement, “My country’s politics will intensify as political parties pick sides in the U.S.-China rivalry.”
The survey results highlight the uncertainty surrounding the relationship between Washington and Beijing. Ties have soured over the past year, particularly after a suspected Chinese spy balloon traversed the continental U.S. before being shot down by the Air Force over the Atlantic Ocean in February.
Senior diplomats from both countries have been making cautious efforts to resume dialogue. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has confirmed that he will travel to China this weekend. On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department and China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that Blinken on Wednesday spoke to Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang in advance of the trip.
In competing readouts of the call, the State Department said that Blinken had stressed to Qin “the importance of maintaining open lines of communication” between Washington and Beijing in order to “avoid miscalculation and conflict.” In addition, he said that “the U.S. would continue to use diplomatic engagements to raise areas of concern as well as areas of potential cooperation.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that Qin had used the call to tell Blinken that the U.S. should “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs” and “stop undermining China’s sovereignty, security and development interests in the name of competition.”
Stressing the importance to the U.S. of maintaining strong relations with countries in the Pacific region, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan will travel to Tokyo this week for discussions with security officials from Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.
Not a ‘monolith’
Zuri Linetsky, a research fellow with the Eurasia Group Foundation and one of the co-authors of a report on the survey, told VOA that the results should serve as a reminder to Americans that there are a variety of perspectives on the U.S.-China rivalry in the Asia-Pacific region.
“There is concern about the U.S.-China rivalry in the region, but having said that, there's pretty dramatic variation within the region about what that means,” he said. “We need to remember that Asia is large. And it's not a monolith. And we need to be aware that when we talk about ‘Asia,’ we need to be careful because we lose a lot of nuance.”
Linetsky said one of the most striking findings was the degree of support respondents expressed for U.S. military intervention in the region under certain circumstances. The survey asked respondents to imagine a scenario in which an unnamed nondemocratic country in the region attacked a democratic country with the aim of taking over its territory, in whole or in part.
In all three countries there was majority support for a U.S. military intervention in such a case, and that support increased in the event that the U.S. had an existing defense treaty with the country under attack.
“There was this overwhelming preference for the United States to protect someone that's been invaded,” Linetsky said. “Even in Singapore that exists. I was rather surprised by that.”
South Korea closest to US
Of the three countries surveyed, respondents in South Korea showed the highest levels of support for the U.S., with 82.6% of respondents saying that they hold a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of the U.S. By contrast, only 14.8% expressed similar views on China.
Asked whether they agreed with the statement, “The United States system of government sets a positive example for my country,” 11.9% of South Koreans said they agreed strongly, while 65.6% said they agreed somewhat. When asked the same question about the Chinese system of government, only 6.6% agreed at all.
Asked whether the influence of the U.S. on their country had been positive or negative over the past five years, 72.2% of South Koreans said it had been either very positive or positive. Asked the same question about China, 14.1% said they believed Beijing had exerted a positive influence.
Philippines mostly in US camp
Respondents from the Philippines expressed almost as much approval of the U.S. as those in South Korea, with 81.6% of respondents saying that they hold a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of the U.S. However, 30.2% of Filipinos also expressed positive views of China, more than double the rate of South Koreans.
Asked whether they agreed with the statement, “The United States system of government sets a positive example for my country,” 21.2% of Filipinos said they agreed strongly, while 60.9% said they agreed somewhat. When asked the same question about the Chinese system of government, 34% agreed either strongly or somewhat.
Asked whether the influence of the U.S. on their country had been positive or negative over the past five years, 85% of Filipinos said it had been either very positive or positive. Asked the same question about China, 33.5% said they believed Beijing’s influence had been a positive one.
Singapore leans toward China
Among the three countries surveyed, Singapore ranked as most favorable to China on most metrics. Asked how they view China, 55.7% of Singaporeans said that they hold a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of the country. By contrast, only 47.8% of Singaporeans expressed a positive view of the U.S.
A plurality of Singaporeans said they preferred the U.S. government as a model for their country, representing a much smaller margin than their counterparts in South Korea and the Philippines. Asked whether they agreed with the statement, “The United States system of government sets a positive example for my country,” 49.7% said they agreed strongly or agreed somewhat. When asked the same question about the Chinese system of government, 38% agreed either strongly or somewhat.
Significant majorities of Singaporeans said that both the U.S. and China had exerted a positive influence on their country over the past five years, with 69.4% holding that view about the United States and 69.1% expressing that view about China.