In a newly published survey, the Pew Research Institute is looking into how Americans view China. The outcome at first glance seems unsurprising: Americans are increasingly skeptical of China, and are concerned about China across a number of different dimensions. But when you look more closely at the numbers you cannot but notice something interesting, and it has to do with what kind of concern this is.
This chart, looking at the republican / democratic divide is a case in point:
The structure of bipartisan agreement on how to handle China is oriented around the issue of human rights, not about any real threat from China to the US. We can simplify and tease out the narrative here: The US thinks of itself as a democracy responsible to speak up on and deal with human rights issues, and not as an empire about to be replaced by a rising China.
It would be very interesting to see what a similar survey in China would look like. Would Chinese be equally concerned with the US, and across what dimensions? The Chinese narrative is around the recovery from past humiliations and the rightful rise of China as a world power, I think, and this clash of narratives is likely to structure the relationship in important ways going forward.
Other interesting data that indicate the same thing:
The US-China relationship would look very different if the category “Threats” was the top one, and especially if the “China wants to be the most powerful country” trended to the top.
The NPR reported another interesting aspect of this – that Chinese trust in the state increases as US sentiment grows more negative. US negative views are consolidating the Chinese around their narrative.
In any geopolitical analysis the relationship between the US and China is one key aspect, and the way the two countries view each-other is an interesting way of cutting the data.