WASHINGTON — A majority of China's opinion leaders and much of its public disapprove of their government's handling of ties with the United States, in a sign of increasingly open criticism, a study said Thursday.
A wide-ranging survey of opinion in the two countries showed that most Chinese and Americans hold positive views of the other country despite the frequent tensions between the world's two largest economies.
But the study, released by the Committee of 100, a Chinese American group, showed a sharp gap in perceptions with Americans widely accepting China's rise but a majority of Chinese convinced the United States wants to hold them back.
In one of the most striking findings, nearly 75 percent of Chinese opinion leaders gave a negative assessment of their own government's handling of the US relationship, up sharply from 37 percent in 2007. In the general public, some 36 percent gave a fair or poor rating, up from 27 percent five years ago.
In another point of discrepancy, a majority of the Chinese public believed that their country would become the top world power within 20 years. But less than a quarter of Chinese opinion leaders agreed, with elite expectations that their country would surpass the United States actually decreasing since 2007.
Coordinators of the survey said it was difficult to pinpoint exact reasons for the swings in Chinese opinion but called it an indication of increasingly open criticism toward the government.
"I can only speculate that it may show some impatience or some high expectations. The world is getting more complex and there are simply many issues to sort out," said Jeremy Wu, a statistician at George Washington University and co-chair of the project.
The US government also received negative reviews, with majorities of the public and elites in both countries saying that Washington's handling of ties with Beijing was fair or poor.
The project carried out 4,153 interviews in China and 1,400 in the United States in December and January. Harris Interactive carried out the US poll, while Horizon Research Consultancy Group conducted the survey in China.
Despite often bumpy ties between the two nations, the survey found that favorable opinion of China has increased in the United States and that views of the United States in China have held steady.
But US policymakers badly misread public opinion on China. Only 20 percent of US elites, when asked to describe the general US view, believed that the public held a positive view of China. In reality, 55 percent of the US public said that they saw China favorably.
Project co-chair Frank Wu, chancellor and dean of the University of California Hastings College of Law, said that the survey showed that US politicians were miscalculating with advertisements that have raised fears about China.
"It suggests that campaign rhetoric that is designed to inflame feelings... is an effort to turn popular opinion against China, not a reflection of popular opinion. Popular opinion is actually much more positive to China than opinion leaders realize," he said.
In China, 59 percent of the general public had a positive impression of the United States. The figure soared to above 90 percent among elites in China, with many saying that visits to the United States made their opinions more favorable.
But the survey also showed a gap on issues of concern to the two nations. In China, public and opinion leaders listed Taiwan as a top concern in US relations. The United States is committed to providing for the defense of the self-governing democracy, which China claims as part of its territory.
In the United States, few listed Taiwan as a concern in relations. Instead, Americans cited economic issues, including the perception of job losses to China, and unease over Beijing's human rights record.
A growing portion of Americans expected China to rise, although around half of the public and a strong majority of policymakers believed that the United States would remain the top power in the next 20 years.
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