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October 13, 2006

Poll: US Power Waning, Asian Power Growing

by Jim Lobe

The publics of India and China believe that each of their respective nations currently exercise global influence second only to the United States, whose relative power, although still unmatched, is on the wane, according to a major opinion survey [.pdf] released Thursday by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA) and the Asia Society.

The survey, which was based on interviews with about 2,000 respondents in five countries – China, India, South Korea, Australia, and the U.S. – this past summer, found the greatest confidence in China, where respondents predicted that their nation's influence on world affairs will be on a par with that of the U.S. 10 years from now.

Indians, on the other hand, see themselves as gaining on the U.S. by 2016 but not surpassing it.

Their current self-image – in which India is tied with Japan as the world's second-most powerful player – is not shared by respondents in China, the U.S., and South Korea, all of whom rated India as the least influential country out of a list that included the U.S., China, Japan, the European Union (EU), France, Britain, and Germany.

Although Indians believe their country deserves a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, they appear more ambivalent about the desirability of expanding their influence, according to the analysis that accompanied the survey results.

Only 56 percent said they wanted India to play a more active role in the world, compared to 87 percent of Chinese who responded affirmatively to the same question.

At the same time, some 70 percent of U.S. respondents said they wanted their country to remain active in global affairs, despite growing disillusionment with the Iraq war. Since CCGA, formerly known as the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, began polling U.S. opinion on this question in 1948, the historical mean has been 66 percent.

"Americans are not turning against international engagement – strong majorities still want the United States to play an active role in world affairs," according to the report, which found that most people in the U.S., while strongly opposed to a unilateral approach to foreign policy and the role of "world policeman," still want Washington to remain the most influential country in the world.

The new survey, which was billed as the most extensive study ever published of Chinese and Indian public opinion on their countries' role in the world, was designed primarily to determine how the publics of emerging Asian powers and the United States saw themselves and each other in a fast-changing world order. The results of a supplemental survey on Japanese attitudes, particularly toward China, India, and the U.S., are expected to be released next month.

A second major survey released just three weeks ago by the Pew Global Attitudes Project of opinion in Japan, China, India, and Pakistan found evidence of a disturbing rise in nationalist sentiment.

Growing distrust – and even hostility – between China and Japan was particularly remarkable compared to just a few years ago. Only 28 percent of Chinese respondents said they had a favorable opinion of Japan, in contrast to the 71 percent who said their view was either very or somewhat unfavorable.

Japanese showed even greater hostility toward China: only 21 percent said their view was favorable – a dramatic decline since 2002 when 55 percent said they viewed China favorably. Four out of five Japanese said they had negative feelings about China.

At the same time, Indians appeared significantly more favorably disposed toward Japan than toward China, according to the surveys, which canvassed opinions of nearly 6,000 respondents in all four countries.

In the latest survey, both Indian and Chinese respondents said they saw each of their countries' growing economic and military power as "mainly positive," although the Chinese were particularly enthusiastic.

Compared to only about two out of three Indians who said the increase in India's economic and military power was positive, nine out of 10 Chinese characterized their country's rise in the same way.

The survey found that a majority of Chinese (56 percent) see India as a partner rather than a rival, and that a plurality of Indians (46 percent) view China in the same way. Two out of three U.S. respondents, on the other hand, believe China and India are rivals.

While a strong majority of U.S. respondents (65 percent) believe that Washington should "undertake friendly cooperation and engagement with China" rather than "actively work to limit the growth of China's power," three out of four described China's rising military power as "mainly negative." Indians, on the other hand, were split on the issue.

Chinese respondents were significantly more positive about India's emergence as an economic and military power. By a greater than two-to-one margin, they described India's growing influence in both areas as mainly positive.

Majorities in all five surveyed countries believe that at some point in the future, the U.S. will be either equaled or surpassed by another country – the most frequently named is China in power, although Indians are the most skeptical.

Respondents in all four Asian countries want the U.S. to play a major role in Asia, although most would like its influence to be reduced somewhat. Consistent with that finding, only 35 percent of Chinese and 39 percent of Indians trust Washington to act responsibly in the world.

Majorities among both U.S. and Asian respondents favor steps to strengthen the United Nations and international treaties on a range of issues, including nuclear nonproliferation, global warming, UN peacekeeping, and human rights.

Support was remarkably strong for multilateral uses of force through the United Nations, including empowering UN marshals to arrest individuals responsible for genocide or other atrocities; intervening against countries supporting terrorist groups; and preventing countries from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Among the list of possible national security threats about which they are most concerned, respondents in all countries except India placed the possible disruption of energy supplies near the top. Respondents in the U.S., South Korea, China, and India said competition over energy resources will be a "somewhat" or "very likely" source of conflict between major powers in Asia in the future.

(Inter Press Service)

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    Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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