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China’s Image in U.S. Gets a Boost

The value of the American dollar has been dropping almost as quickly as temperatures on the East Coast. But there’s a difference: Temperatures in New York and Washington are sure to rise someday; the dollar may not.

And should the American crown jewel stay down much longer, or fall even lower, there will be a serious political price to pay. The Democrats will point their partisan fingers at the federal deficit, the Republican tax breaks and the cost of the Iraq war; and that will force the Republicans to search for plausible political cover.

But where will they find it? Who will be blamed for the dollar’s woes?

Judging from past practice, the answer is: Someone other than the actual culprit. In the ’90s, for example, the Japanese were all but wholly blamed for the West Coast recession. If only Japanese markets were wide open to American exports, then the trade balance would not be so yawning and our recession so daunting. And, boy, did the Japan-bashers show up in full force, as if reliving Pearl Harbor!

So now who’s next on the American public-opinion hit list? The obvious candidate, it seems to me, is China. Since it now sports a larger trade deficit with America than anyone, if the dollar falls further, why not blame those nasties on Beijing?

Surely, American politicians have the talent to whip up enough anti-Chinese vitriol to blur the true nature of the problem. After all, recall that just five years ago, knee-jerk U.S. news media coverage of the so-called Cox Commission Report on “Chinese spying” (to be precise: “The United States House of Representatives Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People’s Republic of China”) would have had us believe a Chinese spy was lurking under every other sofa in Washington and Los Alamos, and that every other Chinese-American , whether professor, student or dry-cleaning clerk , was probably a spy.

But hold on a second, suggests a new major U.S. poll: China may not prove such an easy catfish to fry this time around. “American Attitudes Toward China” , a scientific survey of more than 1,200 American adults, just released , reveals that China’s image today is dramatically different from what it used to be.

Commissioned by the Committee of 100, a blue-chip Chinese-American organization based in New York, a major Zogby poll shows that significantly more Americans today view China positively than 10 years ago and that Americans value China more than they fear it.

Americans also regard China as more of a U.S. ally than either Saudi Arabia or France (you need to read that one twice, OK?); fully six out of 10 Americans view low-cost goods from China as a net benefit to America, and only three out of 10 members of the general public blame Beijing for the U.S.-China trade imbalance.

Stop and catch your breath.

This survey of more than 1,200 selected American adults had a relatively low statistical margin of error and was conducted by Zogby International, whose head, John Zogby, commented of the poll’s findings: “This was unfathomable 15 or 30 years ago.”

So, U.S. Congress , take note: Playing the China blame game will not be that easy this time around. For one thing, public familiarity with the central issues of Sino-U.S. relations, the poll revealed, has increased more than threefold from a decade ago. And union members appear scarcely more likely to blame China for job loss than nonunion workers. In fact, Americans who lost their jobs in the past year were not even likely to view China as a major cause of their woes.

Supporters of Taiwan as well as the U.S. Congress can find reasons for worry in this poll too. It turns out that Americans generally oppose U.S. involvement in cross-straits issues and overwhelmingly oppose the use of U.S. forces in that regard.

One almost wishes that this sentiment hadn’t been detected, for fear it may embolden Beijing to consider the military option seriously. But, truth be told, it looks like the American public, perhaps put off by the prolonged involvement in Iraq and steep cost, wants to look the other way if there is a cross-straits blowup.

For myself, I am happy to say that I agree precisely with the sentiments, views and conclusions of the 1,200 American adults surveyed by Zogby. I have felt this way for years.

So if this new poll truly reflects actual American attitudes toward China, its findings are epochal. Times, fortunately, do change, people get smarter, things even out , at least, it appears, in this case.


Tom Plate is a UCLA professor, former editorial page editor of the

Los Angeles Times

and a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy.

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