Downturn in public goodwill due to political, economic disputes
BEIJING - The number of Chinese people who view Beijing's ties with Washington as "very important" has doubled in the past year, while most people believe relations will remain stable or improve despite recent turbulence, a survey reveals ahead of President Hu Jintao's upcoming visit to the United States.
Several Chinese experts, however, noted issues of concern remain between Washington and Beijing and said it is hard to predict how relations will develop in 2011. A stable partnership needs greater input from both sides, they said.
The survey, jointly conducted by China Daily and Horizon Research Consultancy Group under the theme "The US in Chinese Eyes", also revealed a downturn in public goodwill toward the US due to political and economic disputes.
Nearly seven in 10 (69.9%) believe that in commercial affairs the world's two largest economies are both competitors and partners.
Most people consider that China made a greater contribution than the US in handling the financial crisis and trying to combat climate change, the survey showed.
Asked to value Beijing's ties with Washington, more than half (54.3%) of respondents said they regard Sino-US ties as "very important", more than double the 26 percent in 2009.
An overwhelming nine in 10 (90.9%) viewed the relationship as "important".
However, more than half of the respondents believed that ties had deteriorated in 2010, and nearly four in 10 (the report did not give the specific number) said current relations are "in a bad situation".
Eighty percent said the US was to blame.
As to future ties, six in 10 (no specific figure available) said the relationship will generally remain stable, while about one quarter were more positive, saying it will get better.
People under 30 are more optimistic than those in other age groups.
"The survey results show Chinese people have a higher recognition on the importance of the ties, but a lower emotional recognition toward the US," said Zhang Chuanjie, deputy director at the Center for US-China Relations affiliated to Tsinghua University.
"The public's feelings about the US have come to a crossroads, and President Hu Jintao's visit, at a crucial time, will provide an impetus to push ties down the right road" Zhang said.
On the generally positive attitude of those under 30, Zhang said it is a consequence of greater access to new media, including the Internet. Interaction on blogs and online discussions have enabled them to have access to various sources and to see the huge potential for cooperation between the two countries, he said.
A series of similar annual surveys conducted by Horizon from 2001 to 2009 showed that the Chinese public saw the US as a major threat, yet since 2006 more respondents saw Japan in that light and a large number, more than one third (35.3 percent), viewed Washington as Beijing's security partner, in 2009.
However, the 2010 survey found nearly 85 percent believed that the US-Japan alliance is threatening China, while nearly half (46.6 percent) do not think China poses any threat to the US.
During Hu's visit, starting on Tuesday, the first state visit to the US in five years, the top three issues respondents want the Chinese and US leaders to discuss are: the Korean Peninsula situation, the Taiwan question and the trade imbalance.
Other concerns include the Chinese currency, US involvement in South China Sea disputes and the US embargo on high-tech exports to China.
Wu Xinbo, deputy dean of the school of international relations and public affairs at Shanghai-based Fudan University, said more friction between Beijing and Washington is not necessarily a bad thing.
"It is a result of an emerging China which is getting more active in its relations with the US," Wu said. "It is a positive phenomenon for China."
Sino-US relations might advance amid friction, depending on the way problems are handled, he said.
However, Shi Yinhong, director of the US studies center at Beijing-based Renmin University of China, said given the fundamental problems in relations, as well as "situational factors", predicting how the relationship will develop in 2011 is difficult.
"I cannot even say I'm prudently positive," Shi said. "It depends on joint efforts from both sides, especially from the US, which should set an example."
Ni Feng, deputy chief of US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China-US relations have ended an eight-year period of stability and entered a transitional period full of uncertainty.
"The bottom line is the Taiwan issue. If we handle it well, there might be no big collisions," he said.
The survey took a sample of 1,443 Chinese citizens above 18 years of age in seven major cities across China in late December. It also covered in-depth interviews with leading figures from business, media, academic organizations and NGOs.
(China Daily 01/17/2011 page1)