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Executive Summary

The re-establishment of US-China relations in 1971 marked a strategic step that ended China’s isolation and transformed the global balance of power. Since that historic milestone, the United States as an established superpower and China as an emerging global power stand at the crossroads of cooperation and competition. Washington and Beijing understand the high stakes and hard choices involved in finding common ground amid global market uncertainty, security risks and domestic pressures.

In this pivotal year of political leadership transition unfolding in the United States and China, the Committee of 100’s Opinion Survey 2012 provides timely insight into American and Chinese attitudes toward each other on high impact issues. This year’s survey takes a comparative look at US and Chinese public and elite perceptions based on C-100’s mirror surveys conducted by American and Chinese polling firms in 2007 and 2012. In examining and integrating both years’ data and findings, C-100 has identified four overarching themes, presented in this executive summary, that characterize American and Chinese perceptions.

These core themes underpin the report’s six sections: Overall Impressions, Mutual Interests and Concerns, US-China Policy, Trade and Investment, Media Sources, and Domestic Views.

Overall Impressions
  • Shared global leadership: Converging consensus between American and Chinese respondents confirm China’s emergence as a global superpower and expanding influence in the global economy. The Chinese public has growing confidence about China’s status, but American public and elites have strong concerns and suspicions toward China’s future economic and military roles. As an established global superpower, the United States questions its current direction. Chinese elites anticipate US global leadership will continue over the next 20 years, but the Chinese public believes US global influence has decreased over the past 10 years.
  • Favorable views, reserved trust: The United States and China are almost evenly divided on the level of trust towards each other; they hold di fering views and values on complex issues ranging from the pursuit of personal goals to the national direction. Compared to 2007, an increasing proportion of the American public accepts China as a rising power and wants a collaborative relationship, but a growing percentage of the Chinese public believes the US is trying to prevent China from becoming a great power. The two peoples are skeptical about their own governments in handling the bilateral relationship, as well as their own national media in the truthfulness of reporting about each other. Despite these differences, the overall view toward each other remains favorable.
  • Domestic Concerns, divided views: Each nation is facing complex domestic concerns and divided views. Jobs and the economy are the top US concerns, followed by the budget deficit, campaign finance, political gridlock, among others. The Chinese public’s top domestic concern is corruption; Chinese business leaders cite HIV and communicable diseases; Chinese opinion leaders identify morality issues and Taiwan.
  • Hopes and fears on economic and military issues: The United States and China share hopes and fears on important bilateral issues, especially economic and military. An overwhelming majority of American and Chinese public and elites believe trade is mutually beneficial, but concerns about trade deficit, intellectual property protection, job losses, product safety, and corruption also make trade the leading source of bilateral conflict. With China being the largest holder of US debt, the Chinese public does not believe US Treasury bonds are safe investments. Although a large majority of American elites expect Chinese investment in the US will create jobs and improve US-China ties, the American public is concerned about potential loss of US technological advantage or even control of its economy. American respondents believe US military presence is expected to help maintain security in the Asia Pacific, but the Chinese view it as a major concern for future conflicts. American respondents in 2012 believe China-Taiwan relations are a strategic issue in US-China relations, while the Chinese pubic and elites express more confidence that the issue is evolving towards peaceful resolution. The well-being of the United States and China is now deeply intertwined. Each is recognized as the other’s most important partner. Both countries need each other more than ever to resolve global challenges.
  • Consensus on a rising china: A large majority of American and Chinese public and elites agree China will have leading influence in the Asia Pacific region 20 years from now. China will have the most influence over the global economy in the next 20 years by a smaller-margin consensus. The US will remain the world’s leading superpower over the next 20 years according to US and Chinese elites.