Here's What Chinese And Americans Really Think Of Each Other

chinese reading newspaper

Photo: on flickr

I can’t vouch for the methodology or anything else about the latest public opinion survey commissioned by the Committee of 100, a prominent Asian-American group. Moreover, most of the results are rather bland or have been echoed in other recent polls conducted by Pew and other professional organisations.On the other hand, there are a few items that jumped out at me:

1. Trust — One of the major bilateral topics that is always discussed is mutual trust. Participants in the survey were asked to consider the following statements:

A. The US accepts China’s status as a rising power and wants a collaborative relationship.

B. The US is trying to prevent China from becoming a great power.

Sounds fairly non-controversial, and yet the responses in the US and China were starkly different. If you follow US-China relations regularly, you already know where this is going.

The US general public supported Statement A over B by a margin of 72 to 24%, a larger gap from the 2007 results. In China, the numbers were 52 to 27% in favour of Statement B, which was also a larger gap than was the case in 2007.

This suggests most Americans are OK with China as a rising power, although it is not at all clear that they believe their government is working cooperatively with China toward that end. A majority of Chinese, on the other hand, believe that the US is actively working to keep China down.

2. Worsening Relations — Although the survey results do not clearly show that folks in the US and China strongly think that bilateral relations are worsening, a question was nevertheless asked about who bears responsibility for such bilateral problems. Half of the general public respondents in the US and 66% in China placed the blame on the US government. I wonder if that is based on any policy matters, such as the US Asia pivot/containment policy. (The one question that addressed this issue directly elicited a rather muddled response.)

3. Bilateral Trade — On trade, even with all the demagoguery on the subject by US politicians, only 23% of the US general public and about 20% of Chinese believe that trade with the other nation is a bad thing. You wouldn’t get that from listening to Mitt Romney, would you? The numbers are only a bit worse when the question is couched in terms of consumer benefit, as opposed to the nation as a whole. Interesting, since that is quite logical thinking from an economic standpoint.

4. Trade Imbalance — On the trade deficit itself, a very interesting response. Again, since China’s trade and currency policies are consistently demonized by US politicians, a narrative that is facilitated by the media, I would have guessed that the general public would echo this sentiment. And yet, when asked which government was at fault for the trade deficit, a whopping 70% of the American public laid the blame at the feet of the US government. Wow. Did not see that coming. A majority of the Chinese public (51+%) also says the US government is at fault.

5. Made in China — Participants were asked whether product quality scandals have reduced their confidence in Chinese goods. Almost 80% of Americans said yes, while only about 43% of Chinese agreed, even though the latter have much more information on the subject and pay attention to food safety issues much more than Americans. I can only explain this response as patriotism in action.

6. Outsourcing — On outsourcing and job losses, 78% of Americans agree that “China causes job losses to the US,” while only 25% of Chinese support the statement. This is an idiotic question of course. Even I would admit that outsourcing can cause job losses, but so what? Completely devoid of nuance, context, or related factors, the question is utterly useless. Amusingly, 80% of Americans said that companies should stop outsourcing to China, even if halting the practice resulted in higher consumer prices. Ha ha. I don’t believe that for a second, do you? I think we can agree that the Chinese respondents from topic #5 and the Americans on outsourcing are both lying their asses off.

7. China and US Treasury Bills — There were a variety of investment-related questions, but the one that tickled me related to China’s continuing purchases of US Treasuries. Only 13% of the Chinese public (and only 29% of “opinion leaders” and 36% of “business leaders”) believe that T-bills are a safe investment! WTF? So in addition to folks lying (see #6 above), here we’ve got folks being ignorant. Then again, perhaps it depends on your definition of “safe.”

8. Private Sector Concerns — Business leaders were asked about their biggest concerns. For Americans doing business in China, the top three issues cited were IP protection, corruption, and the legal system. Personally, this is music to my ears. The environment looks pretty good for foreign investment lawyers, huh? By the way, for China business leaders doing business domestically, they worry about corruption, the legal system, and bureaucratic interference. No surprises there.

9. Media — Finally, perceptions of the media. The basic takeaway here when it comes to the general public and media treatment of the other country: they don’t trust the coverage. And what coverage are we talking about? In the US, 73% of the public gets its China news from English-language television, while in China, we’re talking 85% from Chinese-language television. So when we talk about general public perception in each country, it’s fair to focus on TV coverage.

However, when you shift over to opinion leaders or policymakers, their sources of information are much different and include newspapers and the Internet. Of course, in each country, those sources are predominantly in their own language. Only among Chinese business leaders, who rely heavily on the Internet for information, do you see a significant language crossover (41% of their news about the US comes from English Net sources).

10. Media Trust, or Lack Thereof — Now, on to the trust issue. On the question of whether they thought the Chinese media accurately portrayed the US, only 17% of Americans said yes (then again, how would they know? — see above), and only 49% of Chinese agreed. Of “opinion leaders” in both countries, only 6% of Americans and 24% of Chinese trusted the Chinese media on US issues. Ouch.

OK, if you flip this over to US media coverage of China, what are the results? Only 35% of Americans and 27% of Chinese trust that the reporting is accurate. Again, this sucks, and again, how would the Chinese folks know whether the US media coverage of China is accurate or not? An even larger problem, though, is that if you substituted the words “US/China coverage” with “Coverage on Topic X,” you’d probably get the same results. I don’t think Americans or Chinese trust the media all that much in general (in either country).

Question: is China bashing in the US worthwhile or is Mitt Romney (and others like him) wasting his time?

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