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Executive Summary, Part 2

Hope: Overall Favorable Impressions &

Increasing Interdependence

Majorities in the U.S. and China generally hold favorable impressions of each other. This is especially the case with Chinese elites, where 94% of business leaders and 86% of opinion leaders express positive opinions of the U.S. Majorities of these elites in China say the U.S.-led war on terrorism has had little impact on their positive views toward the U.S. In the U.S., favorability of China has increased among Congressional staffers since 2005 (from 19% in 2005 to 35% today). In both countries, younger people are more likely than other age groups to hold favorable views of each other.

U.S. opinion leaders, business leaders, and Congressional staffers have largely shifted from thinking of China in terms of its government (authoritarianism, communism and human rights issues) and more in terms of its global role (as an economic power, with the challenges and responsibilities this presents).

  • The American public tends to associate China with its large size, massive population, and unique culture, while business leaders, opinion leaders and Congressional staffers are more inclined to associate China with its growing economic power and increasing political and diplomatic stature.
  • By contrast, Chinese respondents’ first impressions of the U.S. most commonly focus on the U.S. war on terrorism, foreign policy, and landmark buildings and cities.
  • The United States generally welcomes China as having a more visible and important role in the international system. There is a wide consensus among all American samples that the U.S. accepts China’s status and seeks a collaborative relationship.

Certainly, the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing provides a great opportunity for China to demonstrate its important international role. Both Americans and Chinese have very positive feelings about Beijing’s hosting of the Games, agreeing that the Games will help improve China’s global image and economy. Pluralities in both countries also think hosting the Games will encourage China’s continuing integration with international norms. When asked what kind of national image China should focus most on projecting during the Games, both Americans and Chinese favor one of “a prosperous modern nation with a proud culture and history,” while the Chinese place equal importance on projecting an image of “a harmonious society.”

There is a broad consensus on both sides of the Pacific about the importance of bilateral relations:

  • From a list of seven nations, Americans rank China as the third most important partner, behind only England and Japan. Among Americans, Democrats rate China as second and Republicans rate China as fourth.
  • For the Chinese, the U.S. ranks first in importance, followed by Russia.

There is also a near universal approval that U.S.-China trade is mutually beneficial to each country’s respective economy. Strong majorities also agree that the low-cost goods from China benefit American consumers, including a slightly lower level of acceptance among union members in the U.S. 

Business leaders in both countries have an optimistic outlook on China’s economic future: both predict that China will be the world’s largest exporter and the world’s largest consumer society within twenty years from now.

In terms of politics, the majority of Americans believe that China will eventually fully transition into a democracy, although most believe that this process may take more than twenty years. Both countries hold optimistic views on the rapid growth of China’s middle class and believe that the middle class will become the largest and most influential class in China in the future.

In addition, Americans and Chinese hold largely positive views of the other’s culture and people. Majorities in both countries say that the other nation’s culture has had a positive impact on their own nation. Americans have a more favorable opinion of American adoptions of Chinese children, and are more likely to support interracial (Chinese-American) marriages within their families than are the Chinese.

Of particular note, 16% of Americans say they can imagine themselves living in China someday, which is roughly the same frequency of Chinese who say they can imagine living in the U.S.