Although the two sides do not trust each other fully, China and the U.S. are more likely to see each other as competitors than as partners or enemies according to a survey released on Dec 10.
The US-China Security Perceptions Survey, released by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the China Strategic Culture Promotion Association, showed that 45 percent of the Chinese public and a clear majority of the Chinese elite view the US as a competitor.
Luo Yuan, vice president of the Chinese Strategic Culture Promotion Association believes that the survey provides a frame of reference for China in building its new-type relations with major powers.
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In both the United States and China, elites and the general public expressed low levels of trust in the other country - lower than the levels of trust U.S. and Chinese respondents reported feeling towards most other countries. But in spite of this general lack of mutual trust, a majority of the public in both countries thought U.S.-China relations were "good.”
Str"ng majorities of the Chinese public saw themselves as hardworking, generous, honest, and tolerant, but only minorities saw Americans in those terms. However, majorities of the Chinese public saw both Chinese and Americans as inventive and modern.
Clear majorities of the U.S. public viewed American people as being modern, inventive, generous, tolerant, honest, and sophisticated. In each case, lower percentages of the U.S. public ascribed those same traits to Chinese people. There was one exception to this pattern - 93 percent of the U.S. public described Chinese people as being hardworking and only 78 percent of these respondents applied this term to Americans.
The survey was conducted in the middle of last year among a sample of 1,004 US adults representing the general public and 305 elite individuals. In China, 2,597 Chinese adults representing the general public were surveyed along with 358 elite individuals.
There is a low level of strategic trust between the United States and China, which could risk making bilateral relations more turbulent.
Despite this lack of mutual trust, only small minorities of all respondents in both countries saw the other country as an enemy. A majority of the U.S. and Chinese elite and the American public as well as a plurality of the Chinese public viewed the other country as a competitor. Substantial minorities of all respondents saw the other country as a partner.
Majorities of both U.S. and Chinese respondents felt their own country should play a shared leadership role in the international system. A majority of the U.S. elite thought the world would be more stable if the United States remained the leading superpower, but the Chinese elite felt that a balance of power between Washington and Beijing would be more conducive to global stability.
The elite in both the U.S. and China prioritized strengthening the bilateral relationship, with an emphasis on improved economic cooperation.
Chinese respondents - especially representatives of government - cited U.S. arms sales to Taiwan as a major source of tension. The U.S. Elite - especially retired military officers and business executives - saw alleged Chinese cyber attacks and intellectual property infringement as particularly problematic.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR U.S. AND CHINESE POLICYMAKERS
Emphasize cooperation over competition. Capitalize on support among the elite of both countries to strengthen bilateral ties. Sustained top-level leadership is needed to build public support and provide a strong foundation for managing potential crises in the relationship.
Keep extremist views in perspective. Most respondents were not hawkish or adversarial toward the other country. Minority extremist perspectives, such as those often expressed in social media, should not be allowed to hijack policy.
Build mutual trust. Strengthening official and unofficial exchanges, engaging in a more meaningful dialogue on strategy and core interests, and respecting bilateral commitments will increase trust, as will explaining the intentions underlying policies such as the U.S. 'rebalancing' in Asia and China’s military expansion.
Reconcile divergent views of global order. The difference in the views of the American and the Chinese elite over the global distribution of power could cause tension unless the two countries candidly discuss how to coexist and accommodate each other’s interests.
Prevent the Taiwan issue from derailing broader cooperation. Washington should not underestimate the significance China attaches to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Beijing should not allow this issue to prevent it from recognizing Washington’s consistent support of the One-China policy. Both sides should understand fully the sensitivity of the Taiwan issue and avoid sending misleading signals that negatively impact bilateral relations.
Establish rules on cybersecurity. Mutual understanding will reassure both sides, especially the business community, which has historically played the role of a stabilizing force in U.S.-China relations.
Strong majorities of the U.S. public considered both Chinese and Americans to be competitive and nationalistic. Majorities of the Chinese public also saw both Americans and Chinese as competitive. But while a clear majority of the Chinese public (66 percent) described Chinese as nationalistic, only 45 percent believed Americans were also nationalistic.
The Chinese public’s images of Americans were more negative than the U.S. public’s images of Chinese. In addition, Americans tended to be more self-critical than Chinese.
Clear majorities of the Chinese public believed Americans are (in declining percentages) aggressive, competitive, violent, arrogant, and greedy, and 50 percent said they are selfish. In contrast, only minorities of the Chinese public said Chinese are aggressive, violent, arrogant, and greedy, although 51 percent did say Chinese are selfish.
Only a minority of the U.S. public viewed Chinese as (in declining percentages) aggressive, greedy, arrogant, selfish, rude, or violent. In contrast, majorities of the U.S. public regarded Americans as having all of these negative characteristics, with one exception - "only” 44 percent of the U.S. public said Americans are violent.