OSAKA - In a year of one of the most tumultuous U.S. presidential elections in memory, a new study by the Washington-based Pew Research Center has shown that while 72 percent of Japanese retain a favorable view of the United States, 61 percent see America in decline on the global stage and 52 percent view the power and influence of Japan’s closest ally as a threat.
The Pew survey of 1,000 Japanese was conducted in April and May, just as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were securing the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations in a primary race that saw Trump repeatedly bash Japan and both candidates announce their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership that is currently being debated in the Diet.
Not surprisingly, the survey showed a clear preference among Japanese for Clinton.
While just 11 percent of respondents had a lot of confidence in Clinton to do the right thing regarding world affairs, 59 percent expressed at least some confidence.
In contrast, just 2 percent of the Japanese surveyed had a lot of confidence in Trump, while 82 percent expressed little or no confidence at all in him as a global leader.
In addition, the survey found strongly negative attitudes toward China. Only 11 percent held a favorable view of the country, while 86 percent expressed an unfavorable opinion, among whom 42 percent had a very unfavorable opinion.
Some 63 percent said they view China’s rise as a major threat.
But despite growing concerns that territorial rows with China could lead to a military conflict, Japanese are split over how best to deal with Beijing.
Japan and China are embroiled in a dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and Tokyo has taken a tough stance on China’s actions in the contested South China Sea.
Roughly 47 percent of the people surveyed said forging strong economic ties with China is the best approach, while 45 percent said taking a tough stance against Beijing on territorial disputes between the two countries is most important.
Asked whether Japan should play a more active military role in the Asia-Pacific region, 62 percent said it should limit its military role, while 29 percent said it should play a more active role in the region. This was a slight increase from the 23 percent who supported a more muscular military role in a similar Pew survey last year.
On relations with South Korea, just 27 percent of the respondents said they have a favorable view of the nation, down from 56 percent a decade ago. A quarter of the respondents said they have a very unfavorable opinion of the country.
By contrast, more than half — 54 percent — of those surveyed hold a favorable opinion of India, although that figure, too, was down from a 70 percent favorable rating in 2012.
Despite the media focus on Sino-Japanese tensions, the survey showed that Japanese see cyberattacks from other countries, terror attacks by the Islamic State group and global climate change as the top three threats to the country.
Among the other major threats, global economic instability was rated just behind China’s emergence as a world power.