Looking Askance at China

In a sign of how wary Americans now are of China, that country has eclipsed North Korea in Gallup a poll that asked people here to pick the country they consider “the United States’ greatest enemy today.” Fourteen percent of respondents said China is the greatest enemy of the U.S., putting it behind Iran (the champ, with 25 percent of the vote) and Iraq (22 percent) but ahead of North Korea (9 percent).

This partly reflects the fact that North Korea’s enemy-in-chief tally has fallen sharply since last year, when it stood at 18 percent. (The polling was fielded shortly prior to the New York Philharmonic’s highly publicized concert in Pyongyang, and it predates the recent unrest in Tibet and resulting Chinese crackdown.) But the tally for China has risen from 11 percent last year. The current figure for China is even higher, at 20 percent, among respondents who claim to pay “very close” attention to world news.

A subtext in Americans’ worries about China is a sense that it will soon surpass the U.S. as an economic power, if it hasn’t already done so. In another Gallup poll, 40 percent of Americans identified China as “the leading economic power in the world today,” exceeding the 33 percent who accorded the U.S. that status. Looking ahead, 44 percent said China will be the leading economic power 20 years hence, vs. 31 percent saying the U.S. will be.