With a strong economy and steady increases in its military budget, China has seen its stature grow in the eyes of the global public. Majorities or pluralities in most countries now believe China either has surpassed or will in the future surpass the U.S. as the world’s leading superpower. And in the past six years, China’s perceived stature relative to the U.S. has grown.
Despite this, in the 44 countries surveyed in spring 2014, more still say that the U.S. – rather than China – is the world’s leading economy today. This sentiment is highest in the region where China is most dominant: Asia. Meanwhile, some of America’s closest allies in Europe think China is now the top economy. And America’s perceived position as the leading economy has declined since 2008 in most of the countries surveyed at both times.
Will China Replace U.S. as Superpower?
Overall, a median of 49% across the 44 countries surveyed say that China will replace or has already replaced the U.S. as the world’s leading superpower. A median of 34% across those same countries say China will never replace the U.S.
The countries of the EU are the most convinced that China will overtake or has already overtaken America. A median of 60% across the seven European countries surveyed say this is the case, with only one-third saying that the U.S. will never be replaced.
In the Middle East, Latin America and Africa, more say that China will replace or has replaced the U.S. than believe this will never happen. In Asia, nations are more divided in their opinion. Across the 11 Asian countries surveyed, including China, a median of 42% say China will someday be number one, while 36% think the U.S. is destined to remain the top world power.
In 26 of 44 countries, majorities or pluralities say that the U.S. has seen or will see the end of its reign as the sole superpower. In only five countries do people say the U.S. will never be replaced by China.
While most claim that the U.S. will one day be surpassed, in no country do more than three-in-ten say that the U.S. has already been replaced by China. But the trajectory in global public opinion is clear.
Countries that are considered some of America’s closest European friends are the most convinced that the U.S. will be or has been replaced by China in the world’s top spot. This includes six-in-ten or more in Spain (67%), the UK (62%), France (61%) and Germany (60%).
The Chinese are confident they will someday supplant the U.S. (50% say this, with an additional 9% claiming it has already occurred), but Americans are split. About half say the U.S. will be surpassed by China (49%), with an almost equal number (45%) saying it will never happen.
Republicans (56%) and independents (55%) are more likely than Democrats (43%) to believe China will replace or has replaced the U.S.
Many nations that are convinced that the U.S. will remain on top tend to have strong anti-China views (see Chapter 2). Around three-quarters in the Philippines (74%), and roughly two-thirds in Japan (69%) and Vietnam (69%), say that China will never replace the U.S. as the world’s leading superpower.
In the past six years, there has been a shift toward China as the perceived superpower. Across 20 countries surveyed in both 2008 and 2014, a median of 41% in 2008 said that China will replace or has already replaced the U.S. as sole superpower, with an almost equal share (39%) saying China will never replace the U.S. But in 2014, half say China is or will be the world’s leading power, with just 32% saying China will never replace America.
World’s Leading Economic Power
Across the 44 countries surveyed, a median of 45% say that the U.S. is the world’s leading economic power, while 29% name China. A median of 7% say Japan is the world’s leading economy, with 6% naming the European Union and 12% saying another country, none, or not offering an opinion.
As of 2013, the U.S. was still nominally the largest single country economy in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), but China has been rapidly gaining and is now the world’s second-largest economy, having surpassed Japan. In terms of purchasing power parity (PPP), China is on the verge of surpassing the U.S. in overall economic strength. Still, much of China’s economic capacity is tied to its enormous population (1.35 billion) and in terms of GDP per capita, it lags behind the U.S., Japan and most countries within the EU.
Regionally, those in Asia, Africa and Latin America are most likely to name the U.S. as the leading economy. This includes medians of 55% across Asia, 48% across Africa and 46% across Latin America. In each of these regions, only about a quarter say China is the top economy.
Middle Easterners are divided, with a median of 41% saying the U.S. is the number one economy and 39% choosing China. In Europe, a median of about half pick China (49%) while only 37% say the U.S. is the world’s leading economy.
The countries whose publics are most likely to say that the U.S. is the number one economy are the Philippines (68%), Bangladesh (62%), Israel (62%), El Salvador (60%) and South Korea (60%). These countries tend to have positive views of America (see Chapter 1).
Even among certain countries that perceive the U.S. negatively, such as Turkey and Greece, the U.S. is still seen as the top economy.
In China itself, a majority says the U.S. is the world’s leading economy, with only a quarter saying China is. Americans are divided, with 40% saying the U.S. is the leading economy and 41% naming China.
Four of the seven EU countries surveyed, and some of America’s largest trade partners, see China as the supreme economic power. This includes roughly half in France (51%), Germany (49%), Spain (49%) and the UK (49%). But countries with more negative opinions of the U.S., such as Jordan (47%) and the Palestinian territories (46%), also see China as the globe’s economic leader.
In the last six years, across the 20 countries surveyed in both 2008 and 2014, the perceived economic balance of power has shifted dramatically. In 2008, just months before the onset of the Great Recession, a median of 49% across 20 countries said America was the leading global economic power, with only 19% picking China. Six years later, 40% say the U.S. is the top economy while 31% say China.