July 14, 2017 6:11 am JST

US viewed as world economic leader, but gap with China narrows

Impressions of American strength highest in Japan, South Korea amid decline in EU

ARIANA KING, Nikkei staff writer

NEW YORK -- While the U.S. can still tout a reputation as the world's premier economic power this year, its lead over China is far from solid as key partners and allies see the center of gravity shifting eastward, a Pew Research Center report released Thursday shows.

China has now supplanted the U.S. as the top economic power in the eyes of many of America's historical allies -- including the U.K., Germany, Spain and Canada -- and has made gains elsewhere, Pew noted.

In the poll of 38 countries from Feb. 16 to May 8, seven of 10 European Union members identified Beijing as the top economic leader, ahead of Washington.

"Following the onset of the financial crisis nearly a decade ago, Europeans increasingly named China, rather than the U.S., as the world's leading economic power," the report said, adding that over time views had begun to swing back in America's favor.

"This year, however, the pattern has reversed itself again, and in countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain, China is once more seen as occupying the top spot," Pew said.

An America-first stance on global trade is likely a major factor in declining perceptions. Poor public perceptions of President Donald Trump himself may also tarnish overall views of economic status.

While neither China's nor America's leadership draws much global support, Trump's negatives outweigh those of Chinese President Xi Jinping by 21 percentage points -- a median 74% of respondents expressed "no confidence" in the U.S. president to "do the right thing" in world affairs, against Xi's 53%.

Xi's poor image aside, overall perceptions of China have improved. A median 47% of respondents expressed a favorable opinion of the country, versus 37% unfavorable.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia gives China the highest approval rating, with 64% of respondents viewing it in a positive light -- up 12 points from last year -- and those feeling likewise about the U.S. down 12 points. Australians also saw China as the economic leader by a 2-to-1 margin.

Overall perceptions of China were most negative in Japan and Vietnam, with favorability ratings languishing at 13% and 10%.

Favorability ratings fell 9 points in Vietnam and 8 points in Indonesia over the past two years. But a negative shift was particularly evident in South Korea, where China's favorability "has fallen 27 points since spring 2015 and now hovers near historic lows."

Seoul's relations with Beijing took a sharp turn for the worse after then-President Park Geun-hye's administration agreed to the U.S. deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system on South Korean territory, despite fierce Chinese opposition.

The Pew study was conducted before the election of current South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who appears poised to take a more conciliatory approach toward Beijing than ousted predecessor Park.

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