Tuesday, December 11, 2007

World Opinion: China Rising, US Falling

More and more people in China and other leading countries expect China to have the same influence as the United States in the future, according to an international opinion poll conducted by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, a German foundation. The poll, which was conducted in September, surveyed 9,000 respondents in every region of the world. Henry Wolf reports from Berlin.



On average, half of those surveyed would already call China a world power alongside the US.

Although the US remained the undisputed leader with 81 percent, China gained 5 percentage points compared to a similar poll conducted two years ago.

The Chinese placed even more trust in their country's future prospects. 65 percent of respondents already perceived their country as a global player. Within China, this figure has risen 21 percentage points in the past two years.

In terms of the future, 57 percent of people around the globe expected China to be a superpower in 2020, while a mere 61 percent thought the US would still hold this position.

Among Chinese respondents, 80 percent believed their country would play a global role, but only 59 percent thought the US would be a world power at that date. In 2020, the Chinese expect the leading nations of the world to also include Russia (37 percent), the UK (31 percent), the European Union (29 percent) and Japan (23 percent).

For the Chinese, the biggest challenge facing the world was environmental devastation and climate change (62 percent), followed by war (51 percent, global terrorism (49 percent) and resource scarcity (45 percent). This showed that awareness of environmental problems shot up 17 percentage points in China in the past two years. While this is a global trend, it is most pronounced in China, the US and Japan. In India and Russia, however, only a minority of respondents cite climate change as a major challenge.

The most important characteristic of a global player, reported Chinese respondents, was economic power and growth (74 percent), followed by political stability (70 percent) and military strength (59 percent). The emphasis on military strength was especially pronounced in China. On average, military power is cited much less frequently worldwide in this context and thus came in last among all categories.

Japanese Most Concerned About Climate Change

In Japan, awareness of the threats from climate change and the destruction of the environment are the most manifest. The Japanese see the protection of the environment and the preservation of resources as the most important task for world powers today.

At the same time, the Japanese expect a dramatic drop in the importance of the US and think that China, India and the EU in particular will become stronger.

The Japanese see their own country in the future as having less of a role as a world power. They are pinning their hopes for a peaceful and stable future world on international cooperation through several regional great powers.

When asked what they consider to be the greatest challenges and threats to the world, 72 percent of the 1,200 representatively selected Japanese people cited the subject of environmental destruction and climate change. Compared to a comparative survey in 2005, this number has rocketed by 16 percentage points. This is the highest value amongst the nations polled. On average this threat was the most frequently mentioned, by 54 percent of people.

US Seen as Declining Power

With regard to the question of which nations today and in the future will play a decisive role in international politics, the Japanese expect a dramatic shift in emphasis. The US is still considered to occupy this role today with 70 percent, followed by China with 36 percent, the EU with 20 percent and finally Japan with 19 percent. However, only 46 percent of the Japanese believe that the US will be a force in the year 2020.

Summarizing the study, Josef Janning, head of international relations at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, said: "People's future expectations hold enormous sway over policymaking. All over the world, people see the US losing its dominant position and China gaining ground.

"However, they don't expect the kind of harmonious, balanced world order you might expect from a global government run by the United Nations. Instead, in almost every country, people plan to rely on their own strength in global competition and want their own countries to play larger roles in spreading peace and stability.

"If this perspective and expectation takes hold in global politics, we may see a resurgence of the sort of nationalistic brinkmanship between current and future global powers that we experienced so disastrously in 20th century Europe.

"However, the threat of climate change appears to be encouraging greater political cooperation at the international level."

Gallup International/TNS-EMNID, an opinion research firm, questioned 9,000 people around the world for the Bertelsmann Stiftung study. The representative survey was conducted in the US, Russia, Brazil, China, India, Japan, Germany, France and the UK. As a benchmark, the findings were compared with a prior Bertelsmann Stiftung poll from 2005.