Poll: Americans’ Views On China At Odds With Romney’s Call For Confrontation

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has made a point of criticizing President Obama’s diplomacy with China and “strategic pivot” to Asia as “invevitably weaken[ing]” the U.S. military position in Asia.

But while the Romney campaign takes increasingly hawkish positions towards China — former GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman even acknowledged that Romney’s rhetoric sounded like “typical” campaign bluster — a new public opinion poll shows the U.S. public is far from sharing Romney’s antagonistic perception.

Indeed, a new poll [PDF] conducted by the Committee of 100, a nonpartisan Chinese-American group, did find that militaristic rhetoric about China’s rise appears to have some resonance in U.S. public opinion — two-thirds of Americans see China as a serious or potential military threat. But the poll also found overall American sentiments toward Beijing are surprisingly mixed.

The poll data reveals that the general public holds a much more favorable view of China than business leaders and policymakers think.

Fifty-five percent of the general public views China favorably, a three percent increase from 2007. But business leaders and policymakers, whom the Committee of 100 polled separately, vastly underestimate the U.S. public’s views on China. Business leaders believe only 20 percent of the U.S. public hold a favorable view of China and policymakers say 17 percent.

Other polls found varying results about the American public’s views of China but a recent Gallup poll, which showed only 42 percent of Americans holding a positive opinion of China, reported that 80 percent of Americans think a close relationship with China is a good thing.

Thus, Romney’s talk of reversing military spending cuts and confronting China may be a reflection of the policymakers’ mistaken understanding of the U.S. public’s views on China.

Moreover, while the poll found that most Americans view China as a military threat — indeed, China’s military rise is cause for concern — the reality is that it is still far from being a serious military challenger to the United States, even in the Pacific. The Chinese military has “little operational experience” when compared to the U.S. military.

Obama has taken a different tact on China than previous administrations. Instead of “‘bashing‘ China then reverting to business as usual after several months” the President has engaged in “strategic collaboration” and “reoriented the U.S.-China relationship to focus on global problems,” wrote Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Nina Hachigan in 2010. That collaboration continues today with top Chinese military officials pledging to strengthen communication and cooperation with the U.S. during a meeting with Commander of U.S Pacific Command Samuel Locklear on Tuesday.

Obama’s diplomatic outreach to China and efforts to strengthen military ties with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was downplayed by Romney as “gimmicky,” in a Wall Street Journal oped in February. But the rising number of Americans with a positive view of China suggests that Romney’s desire for a more confrontational relationship with Beijing isn’t reflective of U.S. public opinion.