US top economic power, but regular folks name China

Pew survey points to a shift in views of global economic power.

June 13, 2012   by ASSOCIATED PRESS

BEIJING: For the first time, people responding to a global survey are more likely to view China and not the US as the world’s leading economic power.

The results of the Pew Research Center survey do not reflect reality: America’s economy remains well ahead of its closest rival. But it does highlight China’s steadily rising public image amid rapid growth, as well as the erosion of the US’s status as the global superpower, especially after the 2008 financial crisis left it struggling with recession and high unemployment.

The 21-nation poll found that 41% of people said China was the world’s economic power, while 40% favoured the US. Among the 14 nations that were asked the same question in 2008, the margin was wider: 45% placed the US on top four years ago, with just 22% for China, but in the latest poll China was favoured 42% to 36%.

The trend was especially strong in Europe: 58% of people in Britain saw China as the leading economy, versus just 28% for the US. Even in the US, respondents were about evenly divided on the question. Turkey and Mexico were the only countries where more than half of people consider the US the leading economic power.

“Over the last few years, perceptions about the global economic balance of power have been shifting,” Pew said in the report.

China passed Germany as the biggest exporter in 2009 and has overtaken Japan as the world’s second-biggest economy. But its situation is complex: It’s relatively poor by income per person, while the US is among the richest. The US is the global centre for the auto, computer, finance, aerospace and other industries.

China’s competitive edge is its large pool of low-cost labour, but that is shrinking as wages rise and the Chinese population ages. The World Bank and the communist government’s own advisers warn it must make basic changes to its economic strategy to boost productivity and keep incomes rising.

Those nuances are reflected in the Chinese public’s more tempered views of their country in the Pew survey. Only 29% of people interviewed saw it as the leading economy, versus 48% for the US.

The polls were nationally representative surveys conducted in March and April by 26,210 telephone or in-person interviews in 21 countries, including Brazil, Japan, India, France, Egypt, Tunisia, Pakistan and the US.

The survey also found that China’s image has grown more negative over the past year in the US, Japan and parts of Europe.

Across the 21 nations surveyed, the median percentage with positive views of China and the US were about the same, at 49% and 52%, respectively. But Pew noted that overall figure concealed big differences in some countries. In Japan, 72% saw the US favourably, versus just 15% for China. In Pakistan, 85% saw China favourably while just 12% said the same for the US.

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