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American Public Divided on Cooperating with, Confronting China

A guard outside the People Hall in Beijing.

A March 2021 survey finds Americans see US priorities in Asia to be less about limiting the expansion of China and more about economic growth and strengthening democracy.

At his first press conference, President Biden said that China “has an overall goal to become the leading country in the world.” The American public broadly agrees. In a new Chicago Council survey, conducted March 19-21, two-thirds of Americans (67%) say that China seeks to replace the United States as the most dominant power in the world. But Americans are divided on whether to confront or cooperate with China, and majorities favor a focus on economic growth and strengthening democracy in Asia.

Key Findings

  • Asked about priorities for the United States in Asia, majorities (65%) say it is ensuring economic growth (65%) and strengthening democracy (57%). Just one-third (35%) cite limiting China’s expansion in Asia as a top priority.
  • At the same time, Americans are divided on dealing with China. Half (51%) say the United States should actively work to limit the growth of China’s power versus 47 percent that want to undertake friendly cooperation and engagement with China. This is largely unchanged from July.
  • Americans don't see the US-China relationship as a partnership. Instead, the public is more likely to view China as a security threat (78%) rather than a security partner (20%), and as an economic threat (67%) rather an economic partner (30%).
  • However, Chinese economic and military power do not top the list of threats facing the United States. More Americans identify political polarization (65%) and domestic violent extremism (61%) as critical threats facing the United States than say the same about China’s military power (53%) or economic power (50%).
  • When it comes to defending Taiwan, 40 percent favor the use of US troops if China invades Taiwan, similar to results in July 2020 (41%) and significantly higher than the first time the question was asked in 1998 (27%).
  • Americans are split on a potential boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Forty-nine percent support boycotting the Olympics in response to China’s human rights abuses while 46 percent oppose such a boycott.
  • On a 0 – 100 scale, with 0 being very cool and 100 being very warm, China registered a mean score of 33, virtually unchanged from the historic low of 32 in 2020.


This survey was conducted March 19-21, 2021, by Ipsos using its large-scale nationwide online research panel, KnowledgePanel, among a weighted national sample of 1,017 people 18 or older, living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error is higher for partisan subgroups or for partial-sample items. The survey was designed with input from American, Japanese, and Korean scholars as part of a broader project focusing on trilateral coordination in the Asia-Pacific. Results from surveys in South Korea and Japan are forthcoming.

About the Author
Marshall M. Bouton Fellow for Asia Studies
Council expert Karl Friedhoff
Karl Friedhoff was a Korea Foundation-Mansfield Foundation US-Korea Nexus Scholar and a member of the Mansfield Foundation’s Trilateral Working Group prior to joining the Council. Previously, he was a program officer in the Public Opinion Studies Program at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies based in Seoul, South Korea.
Council expert Karl Friedhoff