Global Views of U.S. vs. China Strength a Mixed Bag: Poll

As U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping prepare to meet on the margins of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting on November 15, a new 24-country public opinion poll by Pew Research sheds light on shifting views of the two superpowers’ leadership. Eleven of the countries polled are key players in either Africa (Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa), Asia (India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea), Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico), or the Middle East (Israel). The remaining are part of ‘the West,’ including Canada, Australia, and several European nations.

The poll shows that overall, the U.S. is viewed more favourably than China; only Kenya and Nigeria viewed China more favourably. But when views are broken down into specific metrics of strength — military, technological, and economic — the picture becomes more mixed.


Military vs. technological strength

On military strength, all respondents gave the U.S. the edge, although these views ranged widely, with Israel giving the U.S. a 37-point advantage and Germany, a key U.S. ally, giving it only a one-point advantage.

But on technological strength, respondents from 14 of the 24 countries — including Canada, the U.S., and all countries surveyed from Africa and Latin America — gave China higher marks.


Economic leadership up for grabs

One of the poll’s more intriguing findings is on which of the two superpowers leads economically. Several high-income countries that are U.S. allies, including Australia and several European nations, give China that honour.

In contrast, the six middle-income countries in Africa and Latin America feel the U.S. remains the leading power, even while many of them have grown closer to China economically. The U.K. and France are evenly split, and Canada’s ranking is close: 44 per cent for the U.S. vs. 40 per cent for China.

These findings could indicate that at a public perception level, much of the world hopes that Xi and Biden can start to rebuild trust and avoid disruptive competition when they meet next week.