Friend or Foe?


A survey out yesterday conducted by the Pew Research Center on public and Council on Foreign Relations members’ opinions makes for interesting reading. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the US public is turning inward and is increasingly of the mind that it shouldn’t be getting involved in overseas ‘adventures’.

US President Barack Obama’s speech on Afghanistan probably won’t have done much to change this view — the mixed signals of stating the war is one of necessity while also setting an arbitrary deadline for withdrawal were, in my view, a mistake. Obama is going to have to accept at some point that he really can’t keep everyone happy all of the time.

But it’s the survey’s figures on China that are really interesting, for they show increasingly diverging views between foreign policy professionals and the general public. Setting aside the odd decision to lump the question of whether China is a ‘minor’ threat or ‘no’ threat together (I doubt many people who responded China is a minor/no threat see it in the same way they see the Maldives as a minor/no threat), there’s a pattern, admittedly a gradual one, of growing public distrust. This comes as foreign policy professionals (or at least those at CFR) have become much more favourably disposed toward China over the course of the past eight years.

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In part this is probably unsurprising — the citizens of any superpower are often going to view the rise of a potential rival with suspicion. And in a culture where cable news thrives on fear and outrage, the new kid on the block is an easy target.

But little PR hiccups like this interesting one unfolding in Tokyo all seep into the public consciousness. Anyone who thought the Tom Hanks movie ‘The Terminal’ was far-fetched should really read this.

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