by Andrew Kohut, President, Pew Research Center
Special to The Wall Street Journal
When Chinese President Hu Jintao visits Washington next week, he will be greeted by an American public that looks to Asia- — rather than to Europe — as the region of the world most important to U.S. interests. This marks a major change from the 1990s, when Americans still considered Europe more important than Asia, even despite concern about Japan’s supposed ascendance. Today, Europe has taken a back seat.
A new nationwide poll by the Pew Research Center finds Americans considering Asia more important by a 47%-to-37% margin. In 1993, the balance of public opinion was the opposite: 50% considered Europe most important, 31% Asia. Questioned today about their interest in news from various countries, 34% of Americans say they are very interested in news from China, while far fewer say the same about France (6%), Germany (11%), Italy (11%) and even Great Britain (17%).
Public interest in China is not just academic. A large majority correctly identifies China as the country that holds the most American debt. Growing numbers of Americans also see China — incorrectly — as the world’s leading economic power. Pew Research’s latest survey finds 47% of respondents citing China as the world’s top economic power, and only 31% correctly citing the U.S. In early 2008, the balance of opinion was the opposite: 41% named the U.S., while 30% named China.