Global Perceptions of China as a SuperPower

Today at the Festival of Politics in the Scottish Parliament we'll be discussing alternative perspectives on the rise of China as a global superpower.

With panelists from economics, the China-Britain Business Council, the David Hume Institute, Scottish Enterprise, Ove Arup & Partners, and the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, the macro-economic data will be well-covered.

I'll be adding my perspective based on the very large amount of global public opinion research on the topic. With this data as a foundation, I'll make the following points:

1. Emerging markets still view the US as #1. Pew Research Center has a treasure trove of data on this topic in its June 2015 "Balance of Power Report." While most European nations plus Canada and Australia view China as "the world's leading economic superpower" today, the developing world still views America as the leading economy. This is fascinating, as it suggests that even with significant trade and investment ties in emerging markets, China is still viewed as #2. As just one example, in the UK citizens are split 39% US - 41% China in terms of who they think is the leading economic power. In Nigeria it's not even close. 54% think the US is the leading economic power and only 26% think China is. 2. Both the Chinese and the Americans believe that America is still the leading economic power. The opinion data in China and America are almost identical on this point. In China 44% believe that the US is still the leading economic power and 34% believe that China is the leading economic power. In the US these numbers are 46% US - 36% China - remarkably similar.

3. But, globally, a plurality believe that China has or will replace the US as the top superpower. 48% believe that China has or will replace the US as the world's top superpower, while 35% say that China will never replace the US as the world's great superpower.

4. Engagement. Critically, 67% of Americans believe that the US should undertake friendly cooperation and engagement with China. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has produced a very high quality opinion research report on this topic. The data was released in September 2014. This focus on engagement tracks closely with an AP Survey from July 2015 which found that while 19% of Americans view China as an enemy, 40% viewed China as unfriendly, but NOT an enemy. And another 32% viewed China as friendly, but NOT a close ally. This pragmatic streak is reflected in February 2015 Pew Global Attitudes research showing that by a 43% to 36% margin Americans believe that it is more important to have strong economic ties with China than Japan.