OFFICE OF OPINION ANALYSIS
RESEARCH DEPARTMENT OF STATE • WASHINGTON, DC 20520
November 9, 2005 M-156-05
Asian Views of China
China’s burgeoning economy, military expansion and Japan: China’s Rapid Rise a Potential Threat
increasingly visible diplomatic presence in East Asia
have set off debates across the region about the Japanese views of China are as negative as they have
implications of its growing influence. But aside from the been at any time over the last decade – a reflection of
common conviction that China is rising, there seems to increasing bilateral friction over Japan’s wartime past,
be little consensus among Asian publics about how its bid to gain a permanent seat on the UN Security
powerful China will be, or whether its rise is a good Council, and competing claims to natural gas fields in
thing or a bad thing for the region. the East China Sea.
Key Findings ● 66 percent of Japanese have a negative view of
According to recent surveys in seven East Asian China, up from only 31 percent two years ago.
● 68 percent think that Japan’s relations with China
● Although publics throughout the region see are in poor shape.
China’s economic power continuing to grow, it is
China’s immediate neighbors, the South Koreans The Japanese public is widely convinced that China is
and the Japanese – more than the publics in on its way to becoming the dominant power in the
Southeast Asia – who are likely to see Beijing region: two-thirds (67%) say China will be the most
becoming the dominant power in the region over influential in East Asia in 5-10 years (only 12% pick the
the next decade. U.S.).
● Public reactions to China’s growing influence And, although they identify the U.S. as the country that
range from increasing concern (Japan) to will be their closest economic partner in 5-10 years,
optimism (Malaysia and Thailand) to relative China has gained ground rapidly on this measure. Just a
indifference (Indonesia). year ago, the Japanese public picked the U.S. by a wide
margin (58% U.S. to 25% China). Now that margin is
● Outside of Japan, publics tend to feel that down to ten percentage points (45% U.S. to 35% China).
China’s rapid economic growth will have mostly
positive effects on their own economies. Japanese are divided about the effects of China’s
economic growth on their own economy: 30 percent see
● None of the publics in the region think that China it as primarily negative, 25 percent positive (and 23%
is likely to become their nation’s top security think it will have elements of both).
partner over the next 10 years. But, at the same
time, aside from the Japanese, few feel that China In both the economic and diplomatic realms, they are
poses much of a threat to their country. more inclined to see China as an adversary and
competitor than as an ally and partner (economic: 54%
● Overall opinion of China throughout the region to 30%; diplomatic: 57% to 20%). Asked which nation
does not move in any synchronized way, but will be their closest security partner in 5-10 years, they
reflects the particular circumstances of each overwhelmingly pick the U.S. (82%, vs. only 2% each
country’s own history and the current who name China, ASEAN or the EU).
preoccupations of its public.
* See Appendix for figures showing cross-country comparisons. Findings are based on face-to-face interview surveys conducted with
representative samples of adults either nationwide (Japan, South Korea, Australia, Philippines) or in urban areas (Thailand, Malaysia,
Indonesia). See “How the Polls Were Taken” (p. 10) for a more detailed description of the samples. Prepared by Robert J. Levy
South Korea: Rethinking the China Gold Rush
South Koreans have been more likely than other Asian publics to see China as the next big thing.
Looking 5-10 years into the future:
● Three-quarters (75%) say that China will be the most influential country in the region in 5-10
● Two-thirds (68%) believe it will be their closest economic partner.
Until recently, this prospect has been an appealing one for most South Koreans, who have tended to look
at China in somewhat idealized terms as the path to their own prosperity. But in 2004, a clash over
history led many to have second thoughts: Beijing’s claim that the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo (which
straddled the modern China-DPRK border) was part of China sparked a nationalist backlash in South
Korea; favorable opinion of China dropped from 70 percent to 55 percent. The current reading (53%)
shows that there has been no recovery. Three-quarters (74%) say that the bilateral relationship is good
(this is down from 82% in 2004).
Even while China’s stock was running high in South Korea, the public consistently identified the U.S. as
their key security partner in the coming decade. They continue to do so (with 62% choosing the U.S., far
above second-place China, at 12%). Asked if any nation threatens regional stability, a small number
volunteer China (17%, second to Japan at 24%).
Australia: China a Partner for Trade, Not Security
China’s growing trade relationship with Australia has helped to foster a generally positive image among
the Australian public.
● Two-thirds (67%) express a favorable overall opinion of China, up from about half in 2001, but
unchanged over the past two years. This is about the same number as have a favorable opinion of the
● 83 percent feel that Sino-Australian relations are in good shape.
The public tends to see China playing a significant role in the future. Looking ahead 5-10 years,
pluralities pick China as the country that will be:
● most influential in the region (42% vs. 17% for the U.S.)
● Australia’s closest economic partner (34% vs. 22% for the U.S. and 23% for ASEAN).
Still, when it comes to security matters, they choose the U.S. as their closest future partner by a wide
margin ( 73%, vs. 6% for ASEAN and 3% for China).
Urban Thailand: Positive Images Predominate
The Thai public tends to look at China in largely favorable terms, as a benign power whose growing
economic influence will benefit Thailand.
● 83 percent have an overall favorable opinion of China, a figure that has changed little over the past
four years (by comparison, 73% have a favorable view of the U.S.).
● Virtually all (97%) say that the country’s bilateral relationship with China is good.
Looking 5-10 years into the future, urban Thai are evenly divided about whether the U.S. or China will be
the most influential in the region (37% say the U.S., 33% China), but they are twice as likely to think
China will be their closest economic partner (43% vs. 21% for the U.S.). A large majority (82%) expect
China’s economy to continue to grow over the next 5 years, and most see this as having a largely positive
effect on the Thai economy (66%, vs. only 18% who foresee a negative effect).
While they look to the U.S. to remain their closest security partner in 5-10 years (49% choose the U.S.,
17% China, 15% ASEAN), it is not because of any perceived threat from China:
● Asked to name the country or group that poses the greatest threat to Thailand’s security, only 1
percent name China (most name separatist or terrorist groups, and 5% name the U.S.).
● They see international terrorism, Islamic extremism and the proliferation of WMD as the greatest
threats to world peace over the next five years. Picking from a list of 7 items, only 2 percent choose
growing Chinese military power.
● Asked which of 10 possible images they associate most strongly with China, they rarely choose the
more sinister options (military threat, violates human rights, bullies other countries). Instead, they
gravitate toward positive attributes, such as hardworking people, long history and beautiful country.
● They are as likely to have confidence in China (77%) as in the U.S. (74%) to deal responsibly with
Urban Malaysia: A Love Affair (Especially for the Ethnic Chinese)
2004 – “Malaysia-China Friendship Year” – was marked by high-profile government visits, cultural
exchanges and growing trade contacts. These activities have reinforced the urban public’s already
broadly positive views of China: 91 percent have a favorable opinion of China (up from 82% in 2004) and
96 percent describe the bilateral relationship as good.
Looking 5-10 years ahead, a plurality (38%) see China becoming the most influential nation in the region
twice as many as name Japan (18%), the U.S. (17%) or ASEAN (14%). They also tend to see China
becoming their closest economic partner (36%, vs. 22% who name ASEAN). But a significant part of
this focus on China reflects the views of the ethnic Chinese minority, who make up close to 40 percent of
the urban population.1 Malaysian Chinese are considerably more likely to name China both as an
influential country and as an economic partner (see Figures A, B). Among other ethnic groups, China
falls back into the pack.
Figure A. Most Influential in East Asia Figure B. Malaysia's Close st Economic
in 5-10 Years Partne r in 5-10 Ye ars
(top 4 choices from a list of 8)
(top 4 choice s from list of 7)
38 36 35
26 25 23 25 26 26
23 22 20 22
17 18 14 16 19 19 15 17
13 9 10
7 8 5 6 6
T otal Sample Malays Chinese Indians T ot al Sample Malays Chinese Indians
China U.S. Japan ASEAN China ASEAN Japan U.S.
1 But they make up only 25 percent of the total national population.
But Malaysians of all ethnic groups tend to see China’s economy expanding (77%) and to see that growth
as a positive thing for Malaysia (69%; only 9% say negative, while 10% see no effect one way or the
Few Malaysians see China as any kind of a threat. At the same time, they are more likely to pick ASEAN
than China as their closest future security partner (40% to 20%). But here again, ethnic Chinese stand
out, with 31 percent naming China, compared with 24 percent who name ASEAN.
With the public’s broad antipathy toward the U.S.,2 they are much more likely to trust China than the U.S.
to deal responsibly with international problems (75% vs. 35% for the U.S.).
Urban Indonesia: China as a Remote, Benign Presence
In April 2005, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Indonesia in an effort to cement Beijing’s “strategic
partnership” with Southeast Asia. He brought with him commitments for US$10 billion in new Chinese
investments in Indonesian infrastructure, making China one of the largest foreign investors. Indonesian
President Yudhoyono hailed the visit as a “historical milestone” in bilateral relations. But despite China’s
increasingly visible presence in the Indonesian economy and its growing role in the region at large, it
remains generally low on the scope for most urban Indonesians:
● They do not tend to see China becoming the most influential in the region in 5-10 years – they are
more likely to mention Japan (29%) or the U.S. (25%) than China (16%, tied with ASEAN at 14%).
● They are more likely to name ASEAN (29%) and Japan (25%) than China (19%) as their closest
future economic partner (11% name the U.S.).
On balance, they feel that China’s economic power is likely to increase over the next 5 years (56% say
increase, 24% stay the same; but 19% don’t know or feel they haven’t heard enough to offer an opinion).
As in other countries in the region, there is little concern that China’s growth will cause any harm to the
Indonesian economy (54% see a positive effect, 13% negative, and 18% see no effect at all).
Urban Indonesians look to China neither as a likely security partner nor as a potential threat:
● They are most likely to choose ASEAN (39%) as their closest security partner in 5-10 years (23%
name the U.S. and only 4% name China).
● In an open-ended question, only 2 percent name China as one of the greatest threats to Indonesian
national security, and only 1 percent pick China (from a list of 7 items) as the greatest threat to world
peace (international terrorism takes the top billing, with 38%).
● Asked about images that they associate most strongly with China, only one-in-ten or fewer pick
military threat or bullies other countries. Instead the most widely chosen image is hardworking
Overall, urban Indonesians tend to have a favorable opinion of China (66%, compared with 42% for the
U.S.), and to see bilateral relations as good (92%). They are as likely to trust China (46%) as the U.S.
(50%) to deal responsibly with international problems.
2 See M-141-05, “Religion is the Essential Filter in Urban Malaysian Views of the U.S.” for a fuller discussion of
the U.S. image in Malaysia.
The Philippines: China is Fine, but All Eyes Are on the U.S.
The Philippines stands out in Asia as a country so heavily focused on the U.S. that few imagine a
significant role for China:
● By a wide margin, they choose the U.S. (62%) as the most influential in the region in 5-10 years.
China (14%) and Japan (12%) trail in second place.
● 62 percent say the U.S. will be their closest future economic partner. Again, Japan (13%) and China
(10%) bring up the rear. By a somewhat smaller margin than other Asian publics, Filipinos expect
China’s economic power to increase (42%, vs. 34% who expect no change), and think China’s growth
will have mostly a positive effect on the Philippine economy (49% to 25% negative; 15% see no
● When asked which country will be their closest security partner in 5-10 years, they once again see the
U.S. as the only game in town (72% name the U.S.; 8% or fewer name any other country).
As a result of past sparring over islands in the South China Sea, Filipinos still carry some residual sense
of a China threat. Asked what nation or group threatens Philippine national security, 9 percent name
China – third in line after Iraq (16%) and the local insurgent Abu Sayyaf Group (15%). Still, as other
measures confirm, that sense of threat is limited:
● In a choice between two visions of China, a small majority (56%) say it is “a peaceful country that is
more interested in economic growth than in military adventures.” Thirty-five percent choose the
alternative view of China as “an expansionist power that is building up its military to enforce its
claims to sovereignty in the South China Sea.”
● In identifying their key images of China, Filipinos focus on the positives: hardworking people (62%),
beautiful country (42%); only a handful choose military threat (11%), violates human rights (9%) or
bullies other countries (7%).
Currently eight-in-ten Filipinos have an overall favorable view of China (81%) and think that the bilateral
relationship is good (82%), and a majority have confidence in China to deal responsibly with international
problems (69%). Even these high readings pale against similar measures of the U.S. (95% favorable,
90% good relations, 92% confidence to deal with world problems).3
3 Fieldwork for this survey was completed before the Philippine press reported accusations that six U.S. marines had
raped a Philippine woman.
Figure 1. Favorable Opinion of the U.S., China (%)
67 63 66
Malaysia Thailand Philippines Australia Indonesia South Japan
Favorable view of China Favorable view of U.S.
Figure 2. Perceptions of Bilateral Relationship
with China, U.S. (%)
97 96 95
92 92 90
74 70 74
Thailand Malaysia Indonesia Australia Philippines South Japan
Relations with China good Relations with U.S. good
Figure 3. Asia's Future Power Center
Which of these will be most influential overall in East Asia in 5-10 years?
China U.S. Japan ASEAN Russia
17 1718 15 16
12 14 14 14 14 12
99 7 6 6
1 31 1 3 1 34
South Japan* Australia Malaysia Thailand Indonesia Philippines
*Data for South Korea and Japan are from 2004 surveys
Figure 4. Closest Economic Partner in 5-10 Years (%)
36 34 35
21 22 22 23
1413 15 13
11 11 10
8 8 8 8
3 2 3 5
2 2 2 1 2
S. Korea Thailand Malaysia Australia Indonesia Japan Philippines
China U.S. Japan ASEAN EU
Figure 5. Expectations for China's Economy
Over the Next 5 Years (%)
82 77 56 Increase
Stay the same
1 1 6
Thailand Japan* Malaysia Indonesia Philippines
* Japanese question wording: likely/not likely that Chinese economy
will continue to grow at a rapid rate
Table 6. What kind of effect will Chinese economic growth have
on your own economy? (%)
Malaysia 9 11 69
Thailand 18 11 66
Indonesia 13 23 54
Philippines 25 17 49
Japan 30 33 25
Negative Both positive and negative/no effect Positive
Figure 7. Closest Security Partner in 5-10 Years (%)
8 8 8 11
6 6 5 2 6 7
2 2 2 3 2 3 2 5 2 4 5 2
Japan Australia Philippines S. Korea Thailand Indonesia Malaysia
China U.S. Japan ASEAN EU
Figure 8. Greatest Threat to World Peace in Next 5 Years
38 Islamic extremism
29 Uncontrolled spread of
21 21 U.S. use of military force
19 20 20
17 16 15
13 12 Collapse of politically
9 unstable countries
6 6 5 Growing Chinese military
2 1 1 1 1 power
Thailand Indonesia Malaysia Philippines
Figure 9. Images of China
Which of these images do you associate most strongly with China? (%)
(respondents can choose as many as they wish)
83 Hardworking people
69 69 Economic superpower
62 Beautiful Country
Respected by other countries
42 Strong educational system
36 35 Military threat
29 Violates human rights
2223 Bullies other countries
9 8 9
7 7 7
Thailand Malaysia Indonesia Philippines
Figure 10. Perceived Threats to National Security
(open-ended question; %)
5 4 5
1 2 1
Thailand Indonesia Malaysia Philippines
Terrorism/separatism China U.S.
Figure 11. Confidence in China, U.S. to Deal
Responsibly with International Problems (%)
77 74 75
Thailand Indonesia Malaysia Philippines
Confidence in China Confidence in U.S.
How the Polls Were Taken
Poll results are from face-to-face interview surveys conducted in the summer/fall of 2005 with
representative samples of adults in seven East Asian countries. Samples were chosen by multi-stage
probability selection techniques.
In each country, fieldwork was conducted by a reputable local market research firm using a questionnaire
designed by the Office of Research and translated by the contractor.
Fieldwork dates: September 3-25, 2005 Fieldwork dates: August 18-25, 2005
Sample size: 1506 Sample size: 1500
Population surveyed: Nationwide, ages 18+ Population surveyed: Nationwide, ages 15-60
Sampling error: +/- 4 percentage points Sampling error: +/- 4 percentage points
Language(s): English Language(s): Tagalog, Cebuano, Bicolano,
Ilocano and Ilonggo
Indonesia South Korea
Fieldwork dates: August 6-25, 2005 Fieldwork dates: September 22-October 7, 2005
Sample size: 2510 Sample size: 1506
Population surveyed: Urban (10 cities), ages 18+ Population surveyed: Nationwide, ages 20+
Sampling error: +/- 3 percentage points Sampling error: +/- 3 percentage points
Language(s): Indonesian Language(s): Korean
Fieldwork dates: September 22-29, 2005 Fieldwork dates: August 1-27, 2005
Sample size: 1037 Sample size: 1000
Population surveyed: Nationwide, ages 18+ Population surveyed: Urban, ages 15-60
Sampling error: +/- 4 percentage points Sampling error: +/- 4 percentage points
Language(s): Japanese Language(s): Thai
Fieldwork dates: August 21-September 19, 2005
Sample size: 1200
Population surveyed: Urban Peninsular Malaysia
(10 cities), ages 18+
Sampling error: +/- 4 percentage points
Language(s): Malay, Chinese, English
In addition to sampling error, the practical difficulties of conducting a survey of public opinion may
introduce other sources of error into the results.
Additional technical information on the methodology of the survey may be obtained from the analyst.
For more detailed discussion of views of China in individual countries, see:
“Australians See Strong Ties with U.S., But Many Uncertain about Direction of Foreign Policy,”
M-154-05, November 8, 2005
“Japanese Public’s Increasingly Negative View of China,” M-152-05, November 3, 2005
“South Koreans’ Contrasting Views of China, Japan,” L-33-05, November 1, 2005