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Majority of Americans View China as Biggest Threat to National Security: Poll

Jonathan Walker
Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
Published: December 3, 2021
Communist Chinese military delegates march.
Communist Chinese military delegates march. (Image: NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images)

A new poll by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute has found that the American view of China has sunk to an all-time low. In addition, Americans’ trust in their military has dropped to its lowest level in the past three years. The survey, conducted between Oct. 25 and Nov. 7, saw the participation of 2,523 Americans.

Fifty-two percent of Americans cited China as the biggest national security threat, which is double the 21 percent from four years ago. Only 14 percent saw Russia as a threat; three years ago, it was 30 percent. According to Roger Zakheim, Washington director of the Reagan Institute, the survey is an indication of how significant China has become in the minds of the American people.

“The steady increase on China shows just how robust a challenge it is… People understand that the threat posed by China is not limited to a security threat, and this goes across economic concerns, political concerns, and human-rights concerns,” Zakheim told the WSJ.

Only 45 percent said they had a “great deal” of trust in the American military; that’s down from 70 percent three years ago during Trump’s administration. Ten percent have “not much” trust in the military, which is up from 2 percent. According to Zakheim, the riots on Capitol Hill and the higher deployment of military on the streets in the past few years may have contributed to such low trust. Many people have concerns that the military is being politicized. Zakheim believes such negativity among citizens “mostly comes from political leadership.” 

The drop in trust also comes a few months after Biden’s botched exit from Afghanistan, which left many Americans as well as Afghan allies at the mercy of the Taliban. In the survey, only 11 percent admired the military, which is down from 56 percent the last time the poll was conducted. Forty-eight percent of Americans see the Taliban as a “major threat” to American security. 

The increasing trade and political conflict between Washington and Beijing have also been influencing Americans’ perspectives. A survey from March conducted by the Pew Research Group found that 80 percent of Americans see communist China as an enemy or a competitor rather than a partner. 

Forty-eight percent believe Washington’s foreign policy must prioritize limiting Chinese influence. Many also want the government to be tougher on Beijing regarding economic issues and human rights, for example.

“Today, 67% of Americans have ‘cold’ feelings toward China on a ‘feeling thermometer,’ giving the country a rating of less than 50 on a 0 to 100 scale. This is up from just 46% who said the same in 2018. The intensity of these negative feelings has also increased: The share who say they have ‘very cold feelings toward China (0-24 on the same scale) has roughly doubled from 23% to 47%,” Pew found.

There are concerns that the rising negative sentiment against China might affect ethnic Chinese living in America. Gilman Louie, an American of Chinese ancestry and a former head of In-Q-Tel, the innovation arm of the U.S. intelligence community, believes that his job is to “introduce the gray between the black and the white.”

Louie meets with national security personnel, advising them that they cannot solely view communist China as a threat, and points to the research made by Chinese students at American universities. However, he also warns entrepreneurs to take into consideration how the Chinese regime might use their cutting-edge technologies.

“You guys have got to open up your eyes. You have to understand where your technology is ending up… If your technology is ending up with things like facial recognition that will allow an authoritarian regime to pick off ethnic minorities, do you really want, as a brand, to be associated with that?” he tells the tech entrepreneurs.