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U.S.-China Relations Important, But Suspicions Remain: Poll


The vast majority of Americans believe having close relations with China is a good thing but also think China's growing influence in the world is troubling, a new Gallup poll shows. Eight in ten Americans think the U.S. and China should have a strong relationship, while this number rose to 88 percent among U.S. opinion leaders.

However, 61 percent of Americans and 63 percent of opinion leaders also believe China's growing global influence is negative. While lack of trust was named as the single largest barrier to improving bilateral relations, Americans are also highly concerned about China's military build-up and its human rights record, perpetuating the trust deficit between the two world powers.

Fifty-four percent of U.S. opinion leaders and 38 percent of average Americans polled also said they were "highly concerned" about China's human rights record. This rose to 60 and 51 percent when speaking about concern over China's military growth.

"Mutual distrust can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's really distrust about long-term intentions," Ken Lieberthal, Director of the Brookings Institution's John L. Thornton China Center, told RTTNews.

"We have a lot of uncertainty about where China is headed and whether they will become our biggest problem. And that worry in itself can produce very negative assessments," Lieberthal added.

Vice President for Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Douglas Paal agreed. "It is a natural development for skepticism about security and the future to emerge in the polling data," Paal told RTTNews.

"China's rise so far has been peaceful and not threatening as in the historical cases of Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union, so it does not yet present Americans with security-vs.-prosperity trade-offs. Yet, everyone can see China is building military capacity as the US prepares to build down," he added.

Second after a lack of mutual trust, Americans cited increasing demand for natural resources as a major barrier to U.S.-China relations. Nearly 70 percent of respondents said it was a major barrier, while 23 percent said it was a minor barrier.

"I think the poll results reflect the essential pragmatism of Americans," Paal told RTTNews. "China is a source of growing American high tech exports, which we need, and its products deliver reasonable quality at lower prices, so we consume them contentedly."

Opinion leaders agreed largely with the average Americans surveyed. Nearly 80 percent said the trust deficit was the largest barrier to improved Sino-American relations. Resources came second, with "different political systems" following at a close third.

In a new partnership between Gallup and China Daily USA, 2,007 Americans were interviewed between Nov. 30-Dec. 18, 2011 on their views regarding U.S.-China relations. Gallup also interviewed 250 opinion leaders in the month of December, drawing from business executives, government officials, think tank leaders, university faculty and the press.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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