With the U.S. election campaign in its final stage, China has again emerged as an issue on the campaign trail, with candidates on both sides playing to widespread public anxieties about what a rising China represents.
Most Americans view China as an economic competitor, the Pew Global Attitudes Survey found. China cannot be trusted. China’s military rise is a danger. And the poll found that China is viewed as a greater threat than North Korea or Iran.
China is often portrayed as a currency manipulator. China steals American jobs. China engages in unfair trade practices. China does not respect trademarks. China steals American technology. China is engaged in cyber-espionage.
And what about Chinese views of the United States?
The government, of course, has its own line toward the U.S., often expressed at foreign ministry briefings, in the editorials of the Communist Party-run newspapers and from America “experts” housed in government and military think tanks.
From the official perspective, the U.S. is a superpower, but a declining one. The U.S. is a “hegemonist,” starting aggressive wars in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The U.S. meddles in the internal affairs of other sovereign countries. The U.S. cannot get its economic house in order. The U.S. is determined to block and contain China’s inevitable rise.
But are these official pronouncements — often couched in 1950s Cold War rhetoric — really the views held by ordinary Chinese citizens? Do most ordinary Chinese really see America that way?
A team of videographers traveled to the southwestern city of Kunming and asked random Chinese on the street to describe their impression of the United States. What came back was a wide range of opinions. The U.S. is everything from KFC to President Obama to Patriot missiles.
The view was mixed on whether and when China’s economy could pass America’s; soon, in 50 years, or never.
And like Americans in the Pew survey, Chinese also had divided opinions on whether they consider the United States an ally or a rival.
“America and China are friends,” said one respondent. “They are also competitors.”