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U.S.: Public More Concerned About Rising China Than Elites

WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2012 (IPS) - The U.S. public is more concerned about the rise of China – particularly as an economic power – than are elite sectors, including government officials, business leaders, scholars and media figures, according to a major new survey released here Tuesday by several U.S. think tanks.

And while the great majority of both the public (66 percent) and U.S. elites (around 80 percent) see China as more of a “competitor” than an “enemy”, about two-thirds of both groups believe that the Asian giant can either be trusted “not too much” or “not at all,” according to the poll.

Among the elite sectors, retired U.S. military personnel expressed the most critical views of China, with about half of respondents in that group complaining that President Barack Obama has not been tough enough in dealing with Beijing on a range of issues.

Among the general public, younger respondents were found to be more trusting about China and less inclined to describe Beijing as an “enemy” compared to other age groups.

The poll results were released as China has emerged as one of the few foreign-policy issues that could impact the presidential race between Obama and his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose campaign has run a series of television ads assailing the White House for allegedly failing to more aggressively challenge Beijing on its trade and currency practices.

Seemingly in response, the administration Monday filed a major new trade case at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that charged Beijing with unfairly subsidising exports of cars and auto parts while the US Trade Representative (USTR) suggested that Washington will soon renew tariffs on Chinese tires.

Both actions came while Obama was campaigning in Ohio, a critical swing state and a centre of both auto parts and tire manufacturing.

Obama has also been hammering away – with notable success, according to polls – on the alleged role played by Bain Capital, a management and investment firm directed by Romney, in outsourcing jobs in the U.S. to China and other countries since its founding in 1984.

The survey also comes amidst a steady growth in regional tensions over recent territorial claims by China in the South and East China Seas. U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta is currently visiting China on a self-described mission to reduce growing hostility between Beijing and Tokyo, in particular.

But Panetta’s announcement Monday during a brief stay in Tokyo that the U.S. and Japan have agreed on the construction of a new U.S. anti-missile radar system in Japan is unlikely to be well received by a Chinese leadership that has complained increasingly over the past year that Washington is pursuing a containment strategy with some of Beijing’s neighbours directed against China.

The survey, which was sponsored by the Pew Research Center, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson International Center for Scholars here, was based on interviews in May – that is, well before China had become a major issue in the presidential campaign – of more than 1,000 adult respondents living in all 50 states, as well as 305 web and telephone interviews of foreign-policy and national-security experts.

The latter group included 54 government officials; 52 retired military officers with ranks of colonel or captain or above; 74 business and trade leaders; 93 scholars, think tank staff, and non-governmental organisation (NGO) leaders; and 32 news media professionals.

According to the survey, the public views China primarily as an economic threat rather than a military one, with 59 percent of respondents saying Beijing’s economic strength concerns them the most, and only 28 percent citing military strength as their biggest concern about an emergent China.

Nonetheless, about a quarter of the public (26 percent) named China when asked what country represented the “greatest danger” to the U.S., more than any other country. By contrast, only 16 percent volunteered Iran, and 13 percent, North Korea. Iran was cited as the “greatest danger” by a plurality of government officials, business leaders, and news media professionals, while 50 percent of retired military respondents named China.

The survey found a big difference between the public and the elites on China’s economic impact on the U.S. More than three out of four public respondents said they regarded the large amount of U.S. debt held by China as a “very serious problem”; while seven in 10 put the loss of U.S. jobs to China in the same category.

While about half of the military and media respondents agreed that debt was a “very serious problem”, only one in five respondents in government and in universities and think tanks agreed. The gap was even greater between the elite sectors and the public on the jobs issue: an average of just under 20 percent of the elite groups considered it a “very serious problem”.

Asked whether they considered “China’s emergence as a world power” a major or minor threat to the U.S. or none at all, the public was markedly more concerned than all of the elite sectors except retired military officers.

More than half (52 percent) of the public respondents said they considered it a “major threat”, as did a 46-percent plurality of the military officers. Among the other elite groups, only about 30 percent said it was a “major threat”, while an average of about 56 percent called it a “minor threat”.

By contrast, a number of other scenarios, including international financial instability, Islamic extremist groups, and Iran’s nuclear programme were considered a “major threat” by more public and elite respondents, while political instability in Pakistan was generally considered a “major threat” by the largest percentage of the elite sectors.

The elites also considered building a “strong relationship with China” to be a substantially more important task than the public respondents. While 55 percent of the public respondents said it was “very important” to strengthen ties, the comparable percentages for the elite groups, including the retired military, were well into the eighties.

*Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at

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  • steveiii

    What, should we worry about China?
    Please read on:
    China Confronts Mounting Piles of Unsold Goods
    Forbes Conrad for The New York Times
    GUANGZHOU, China — “After three decades of torrid growth, China is encountering an unfamiliar problem with its newly struggling economy: a huge buildup of unsold goods that is cluttering shop floors, clogging car dealerships and filling factory warehouses.
    The glut of everything from steel and household appliances to cars and apartments is hampering China’s efforts to emerge from a sharp economic slowdown. It has also produced a series of price wars and has led manufacturers to redouble efforts to export what they cannot sell at home.
    Problems in China give some economists nightmares in which, in the worst case, the United States and much of the world slip back into recession as the Chinese economy sputters, the European currency zone collapses and political gridlock paralyzes the United States.”
    The Chinese economy is controlled by its Monetarily Sovereign government, which can produce unlimited Yuan and distribute them to the Chinese people in any manner and amount it chooses. China’s government also can exchange Yuan for Dollars, for import purposes.
    As a large, Monetarily Sovereign government, particularly one that doesn’t need to worry about political agendas, China, and the Chinese people, never should have a shortage of their sovereign currency.
    China can buy all domestic production and simply destroy all excess inventory. It can close unneeded production plants, and put the workers on the government payroll. It can exchange Yuan for Dollars, and import anything in the world. The Chinese government has the financial and political freedom to do anything it wants. There is no reason for the Chinese people ever to suffer poverty, starvation, unemployment, homelessness, a recession or a depression.
    While China remains a net exporter, it doesn’t need to be. The U.S., also being Monetarily Sovereign, is a net importer. Our imports exceed exports by $600 billion. That’s net $600 billion leaving America every year, and still there is no possibility we will run short of Dollars. We really don’t need to export at all.
    Just as China easily can avoid any economic downturn, we could do the same. Our recession could end tomorrow, and we could rise to the greatest prosperity we ever have known. But we have one constraint the Chinese may (?) not have: We have warring political parties, where the “outs” cynically want the economy to be as bad as possible, so they can win the next election and become the “ins.”
    So far, our “outs” have done an excellent job of sinking America, by insisting on federal deficit reduction, which reduces Dollar creation. We’ll see whether China encounters a similar problem.-Rodger Mitchell

sarah allan