Gallup: China Seen as “Leading Economic Power”

New data from Gallup suggest that 52% of Americans now see China as the world’s leading economic power, compared with only 32% who say the same of the US. This echoes last month’s widely publicised findings by the Pew Research Center, which gave figures of 47% and 31% respectively.

This is China’s strongest lead on this Gallup measure, first asked in 2000, and is a major change from 2009, when China and the U.S. were nearly tied in Americans’ perceptions about the leading power ….

The poll also finds a 13-point surge since 2009 in the percentage of Americans who believe China will be the world economic leader in 20 years. The 47% now saying this eclipses the 35% choosing the U.S. as the leader; however, China’s lead over the U.S. on this measure is smaller than it is for perceptions about who leads today, and is not appreciably different from what it was in 2008 ….

China is enjoying explosive economic growth and, as a result, has made impressive gains in the rank-order of national economies in the past decade. However, the Gallup data suggest Americans may not be aware that, on the basis of GDP, China’s economy still trails the United States’. Alternatively, Americans’ conception of the “leading economic power” may take into account more than nations’ relative economic output, and could reflect awareness that China enjoys economic momentum at the same time that U.S. jobs are being outsourced to China, and that China is a substantial holder of U.S. debt.

A Xinhua editorial responding to the Gallup poll, however, stated unequivocally that the perception of China’s economic leadership was “mistaken”:

When it comes to the economy, the US is still the largest developed country and China the largest developing nation. There is a wide gap in the two countries’ industry, technology innovation, labor cost and economic scale.

Most importantly, the US has played the leading role in designing almost all major world mechanisms, extending the influence of its monetary and economic policy over the world. China, on the other hand, is more of a participator than designator in these mechanisms. In terms of national strength, China is still a developing country and lags far behind the developed ones.

With increasing strength, China now exercises immense influence in many regions. From Asia to Africa, even in some parts of Europe and Latin America, China is becoming the largest trading partner of many countries, including several regional powers. But there is still a wide gap between China’s strength and that of the US, even though it is in decline.

The findings are taken from Gallup’s annual World Affairs survey. Previously released figures from the same poll show that events within China are now considered more important to the US than those in any other country:

Americans’ views that events in China are vitally important to the U.S. have increased by 12 percentage points since 2007, putting China where Iraq was four years ago. The importance of China in the average American’s eyes likely reflects continuing awareness of the economic influence of China on the U.S. and world economies.

Americans’ perceptions of the importance of what happens in China most likely underscore the public’s underlying concern about economic matters. Although Egypt is currently much in the news, the American public may have a longer-range perspective on events around the world and may recognize that China’s economic prowess will potentially have the most dramatic, direct effect on the U.S. in years to come.

February 23, 2011 10:39 AM
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