The Debate

Asia Fears But Likes China

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The Debate

Asia Fears But Likes China

A new Pew survey finds that Asia nations fear a military conflict with China, but still view it favorable.

Asia Fears But Likes China
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A new Pew Research Center poll has some extremely interesting findings about China and its neighbors.

On the one hand, respondents in Asia gave China a fairly high favorability rating. According to Pew, 61 percent of respondents in Asia told Pew that viewed China favorably. This was only slightly less than the 66 percent of Asians who said they had a favorable view of the United States.

More importantly, it meant that China is viewed almost as favorably in Asia as it is in any other region of the world. For example, only 39 percent of Europeans, 48 percent of Latin Americans and 49 percent of Middle Eastern respondents said that they viewed China favorably. Only in Africa, where 70 percent of respondents had a favorable view of China, did China garner a higher favorability rating than in Asia.

This is quite an accomplishment given that proximity generally breeds mistrust among nation states, and nowhere does this seem to be truer than in Asia where China and almost all of its neighbors are embroiled in territorial disputes of one kind or another.

That is not to suggest that these territorial disputes are not taken seriously by people in Asia. Indeed, as Pew notes, “in all 11 Asian nations polled, roughly half or more say they are concerned that territorial disputes between China and its neighbors will lead to a military conflict. This includes a remarkably high 93 percent of Filipinos, 85 percent of Japanese, 84 percent of Vietnamese, and 83 percent of South Koreans.” It’s worth noting that 62 percent of Chinese and 72 percent of Indians have the same fears.

China's Border Disputes with Its Neighbors

Despite these concerns about a military conflict, most countries do not see China as their top threat. In fact, only respondents in Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam see China as their top security threat, the same countries that are most embroiled in maritime disputes at the current time. Similarly, the U.S. is seen as the top security threat in three Asian nations: China, Pakistan and Malaysia. Incredibly, Indonesians see the U.S. as their top security threat and their greatest ally.

Still, while the same number of countries in the region view the U.S. as their greatest security threat as China (and actually more count the U.S. as their greatest threat if you count Indonesia), the U.S. is still more loved in the region than is China. Only respondents in Malaysia and Pakistan cited China as their countries’ greatest ally. By contrast, respondents in 8 of 11 nations (not counting the U.S.) in the region view the U.S. as its greatest ally, including: Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Which Country Is Greatest Ally/Threat?

These poll results once again confirm the perils of proximity. The countries that don’t list China or the U.S. as their greatest threat invariably list one of their neighbors. For example, Bangladesh lists India, India lists Pakistan, South Korea lists North Korea, and Thailand lists Cambodia.