From Oct. 9 to Nov. 10, 2013, The Carter Center’s China Program conducted an online survey on U.S.–China mutual perceptions based on a convenient sample. There were 472 respondents from China and the United States; 385 people from China, 87 people from the U.S. The purpose of this survey is to understand at nominal level how American and Chinese citizens perceive each other.

Result Highlights

  • The majority of survey respondents from both countries have a favorable impression of each other.
  • Both Chinese and American respondents reported an improved impression after visiting the other country.
  • The majority of respondents from both sides have optimistic views on U.S.-China relations.
  • Nearly 30% of the respondents considered China is emerging as a global economic power and believed in an opportunity for cooperation between China and the U.S.
  • A majority of the survey respondents do not think that their native media offers accurate information about the others’ country.
  • Respondents from both countries believe that China and the United States have equal influence in Africa.

Overview

Among 472 respondents, 87 people (18%) identify themselves as American, while 385 people (82%) identify themselves as Chinese. More than three fourths of American respondents visited China and claim to know China well, while only 15.8% of Chinese respondents have been to the United States before and 34% of them believe they know the United States well. More than 90% of the respondents report that they have at least a college degree.

I. What is your general impression of China/the United States?

The majority of respondents from both countries have a favorable impression of the other. Notably, nearly 25% of Chinese respondents state that they have a “very favorable impression” of the United States, while only 11.5% of the American respondents have a “very favorable impression” of China. In addition, 10% of U.S. respondents are not clear about their impression of China.

Respondents from both sides report an improved impression after visiting the other country. It seems that the more they got to know the other side, the better the impression became. Nevertheless, nearly 30% of American respondents claim that their impressions of China remain the same before and after visiting China.

When asked “what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of China?” American respondents listed the top three categories as “culture/history/food/the Great Wall,” (33.3%), “economic growth/booming economy,” (23.0%), and “authoritarian/communist/Mao” (17.2%). When Chinese respondents were asked, “what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the United States?” “economic development” (33.0%), “fashion and culture” (17.4%), and “President” (11.2%) claimed the most votes. The result indicates that, to Americans, Chinese culture is more impressive than its economic development; whereas Chinese respondents are more impressed by America’s economic development than its culture.

In terms of whether the United States or China has a better international image, the U.S. prevails. More than half of the respondents believe that the U.S. has a better image, while only 10% respondents think that China has a better image. There is great consistency among responses of Chinese and American respondents on this question.

II. Views on U.S.–China Relations: Generally Optimistic

A majority of respondents from both sides believe that the relationship between the United States and China is improving compared with that of 10 years ago. However, over one fourth of the American respondents (26.4%) think that the bilateral relationship is worsening.

Among respondents who think the relationship is worsening, 36.5% believe that both countries are responsible for the deterioration, while 33.8% suggest the U.S. is responsible for the deterioration.

When asked how serious certain problems are in terms of improving U.S.–China relations, respondents are optimistic. In a 10-point scale with “1” representing “not serious at all” and “10” representing “extremely serious,” the highest mean score that a problem receives is 3.58. Respondents identified the three most serious problems that could harm U.S.–China Relations as “different ideologies and cultures,” (3.58) “U.S. military presence in Asia/U.S. pivot to Asia,” (3.52) and “territorial disputes around China” (3.44).

Compared to Chinese respondents, Americans are more concerned with problems such as economic recession, the United States’ trade deficit, the amount of American debt that is held by China, and controversy over intellectual property. Also, on issues such as cyber-attacks and media representation, American respondents show more concern than Chinese respondents. In addition, for almost every problem, Americans participating in the survey scored higher than the Chinese, indicating that Americans are generally more concerned than Chinese respondents.

When asked in which area(s) China and the U.S. have mutual interests, half or more of those surveyed believe trade, global financial stability, and security in the Asia–Pacific region are of highest concern.

When asked about China’s emergence as a military power, 50% Chinese respondents believe that it poses no threat to the United States. Meanwhile, 57% Americans state that China’s increasing military power could be a threat to the United States. However, the difference is not significant.

Nearly three out of ten of the respondents consider China’s emergence as a global economic power an opportunity for cooperation between China and the United States. However, the same amount of people believe it could pose a threat to the United States.

U.S.–China Relations in the Eyes of the Mass Media

When asked how accurately the media in either country portrays the other, 69.8% of Americans and 63.1% of Chinese believe the Chinese media does not portray an accurate picture of the United States, and 57% of the Americans and 62.9% of the Chinese agree that the American media does not portray an accurate picture of China. The majority of those surveyed distrust the media.

However, when asked whether or not the media has an impact on U.S.–China relations, people from both countries believe that it does not have a serious influence. The mean score attained is 2.94 in a 10-point scale (1” representing “nothing at all serious,” “10” representing “extremely serious”). However, when looking at the two parties separately, there is a significant difference: 17.7% of the Chinese respondents chose “1” (not serious at all) with an overall average score of 2.86, while only 3.5% of American respondents chose “1” with the mean of 3.29. This suggests that Americans are more worried about the potential impact of the mass media on the bilateral relationship than the Chinese.

III. U.S.–China in Africa

Respondents from both countries believe that China and the United States have equal influence in the African continent—curves below track each other closely.

However, those surveyed said that compared with the United States, China has a more positive economic impact in African countries.

Overall, people from both sides have a favorable impression of the other country and expressed optimism about the bilateral relationship. This survey also finds a consensus of opinions among the respondents, despite a few disagreements. Therefore, a promising relationship between the United States and China could be expected in the future.

Conclusion

According to the analysis of our online survey on U.S.-China mutual perception, we came to a general impression that the survey respondents, they have a positive view towards the U.S.-China relations. Though the data for this survey may not be statistically significant since it was generated through convenience sampling survey, it can provide decision makers with some anecdotal insight into how respondents of this survey view the U.S.-China relationship, as well as their opinions on fundamental issues, such as cooperation in Africa and media perception of Sino-American affairs. This survey calls for further research on how common Chinese and American citizens view the state of the relationship, as such research results will be important for policy makers of both countries to review and rethink their actions.

Note:

This is an online survey, so findings presented here may not be statistically significant. In fact, samples from the two countries are not evenly distributed in terms of age, education, and occupation. Specifically, over one half (57.4%) of the Chinese respondents are between 30 and 49 years old, while nearly one half of the American respondents (47.5%) are 50 years or older. Therefore, age difference, rather than self-identified nationality, might contribute more to the varying opinions on cyber-attacks, media, and intellectual property.