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Poll shows concern about American influence waning as China's grows

For Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center, increasing public concerns with China remind him of America's reaction to another rising Asian nation three decades ago: Japan.

"This is déjà vu all over again, to quote Yogi," he said. "When a Japanese company bought Rockefeller Center, Americans went nuts. We asked questions about whether Japan was going to become No. 1 and people said yes. These two sentiments are very similar."

Kohut said he doesn't necessarily agree with the answers.

"Anyone who would say that China has eclipsed the United States hasn't been in a Chinese house," he said. But, he added, an "inflated view of what China is today" could have ramifications.

"When Americans are unhappy with themselves, they are unhappy with others, which can translate into protectionist pressure and security anxieties, both of which make it hard to manage U.S.-China relations," said David M. Lampton, a professor of China studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. "People tend to be anxious about big, rapidly changing, nontransparent things -- China is all three."

In recent weeks, U.S. relations with Beijing have taken a nose dive as President Obama met the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who is considered a separatist by China, and the administration moved to sell $6.4 billion in weapons to Taiwan. Although both Washington and Beijing have signaled that they don't want the relationship to be damaged, other issues -- most notably trade and a U.S. belief that China's currency needs to rise against the dollar -- could conspire to keep tension high.

Other analysts say the polling may foreshadow something bigger and more complicated than just a potential rise in protectionist sentiment.

"If we face perceptions around the world that China's rise is inexorable and the U.S. is on the decline," said Bonnie S. Glaser, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "this will hamper U.S. diplomacy and negatively affect U.S. interests."

This explains why, for example, Asian countries near China routinely raise concerns with U.S. officials about America's commitment to Asia.

"All of us want to hedge against China," said a senior official in the region, "but we need to know that the U.S. government will be here for the long haul.

"But even if you do stick around," he said, "there is no doubt that all of us now factor in how China will react to what America wants."

The Post-ABC News poll was conducted Feb. 4-8 by conventional and cellular telephone. The questions reported here were asked of half-samples of respondents; the results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus five percentage points.

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.


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