As U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet Thursday and Friday at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, it will be against a backdrop of softening American views toward China — despite a series of thorny issues the two powers face.
According to a major Pew Research Center poll published Tuesday, 44 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of China, up from just 37 percent a year ago.
The rising positive ratings for China may be due in part to declining concerns about economic threats from China, the survey showed. It found that the share of the public that sees the amount of U.S. debt held by Beijing, the loss of jobs to China and the trade deficit with China as very serious problems has fallen significantly in recent years.
Citing an example of this shift, Pew pointed to its 2012 survey, when 61 percent of those surveyed said the trade deficit was a very serious problem, compared with 44 percent today.
Still, according to the survey, debt, trade and jobs have not disappeared as sources of concern for Americans, with more than half the public — 52 percent — continuing to see China as more of an economic threat than a military one.
On the security front, more than a third of Americans, 36 percent, viewed China as principally a military threat. The two nations remain at loggerheads over issues such as how to rein in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and territorial disputes involving U.S. allies in the East and South China seas.
Those issues are expected to dominate the Xi-Trump talks.
Trump’s remarks on the campaign trail also questioned his commitment to U.S. alliances, though he has largely walked back those comments since moving into the White House.
According to the survey, a majority of Americans are in favor of backing Asian allies in the event they become embroiled in a military conflict with China.
If an ally such as Japan, South Korea, or the Philippines were to become ensnared in a conflict with China, 58 percent of Americans would back the use of force against Beijing, the survey showed. Nearly two-in-three Republicans, 65 percent, and 62 percent of independents hold this view. Among Democrats, 52 percent favor using force to defend an Asian ally.
Americans also take a dim view of Xi, who some observers have called the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping, with 60 percent saying they have not much or no confidence in him to do the right thing in world affairs.
Just 31 percent say they have a lot or at least some confidence in the Chinese leader, the poll found.
Economic and military issues are not the only concerns the public has about China — many also name cyberattacks, China’s impact on the environment and Beijing’s human rights policies as major problems, the survey found.
It was conducted among 1,505 respondents in the U.S. from Feb. 16 to March 15.
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