Friday, 12 March 2021

 

Americans harden on China and they’re prepared to pay big

Jacob Greber

Whether they voted for Joe Biden or Donald Trump, an overwhelming proportion of Americans claim they would pay as much as $US500 ($642) extra for a US-made mobile phone to decouple from China, according to a survey that points to a Cold-War-like hardening in attitudes.

The survey of US voters by The University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre comes as the US embarks on an Indo-Pacific diplomatic offensive, as well as a historic virtual meeting of the so-called Quad leaders between Mr Biden, Scott Morrison, India’s Narendra Modi and Japan’s Yoshihide Suga.

Simon Jackman, chief executive of the US Studies Centre: “You can see this understanding that while America has been attuned to other things, China has emerged as a huge, huge challenge.” Sean Davey

Almost nine out of 10 of the 2200 surveyed, who were split evenly between the US and Australia, agree that working with allies to stand up to China is “very or fairly important”.

Some 69 per cent believe China’s influence on the US is negative – up from 61 per cent just before the November 2020 presidential election, and considerably above the 43 per cent recorded by the studies centre in mid-2019.

Two-thirds of Trump voters say the US and China are in a Cold War, versus 49 per cent in October 2020. Among Democrat voters, the proportion who believe that is true has held steady at 34 per cent.

Furthermore, a significant proportion (42 per cent among Republicans and 45 per cent for Democrats) say China has overtaken the US as the world’s technology leader.

The findings demonstrate that Americans are increasingly unified in their opposition to China, a dramatic shift from only a few years ago when many still saw the Asian economy as a non-threatening supplier of cheap goods.

Not only has that attitude shifted – China is widely blamed by both sides of politics for destroying American jobs – but many voters say they are prepared to back their views with their wallets.

At least 89 per cent of Trump voters say they would shell out $US500 more for a mobile phone if it was made in America. Among Biden voters the proportion was 59 per cent.

The American consumer understands things have got to change and that there will be short-term pain.

— Simon Jackman

The survey shows Americans are up for the challenge of confronting China and realise that it could even be costly, Simon Jackman, chief executive at the United States Studies Centre, told AFR Weekend.

They know “that the decoupling of some sort is on”, Professor Jackman said. “The question is how far it goes and into what realms.”

“The American consumer understands things have got to change and that there will be short-term pain for long-term strategic gains for alliances and democracies.”

No bipartisan division

Professor Jackman likened the hardening of public attitudes to the Cold War, when Americans became accustomed to carrying the staggering weight of defence spending.

“It’s interesting that even in the middle of COVID and all the privations of that, and the great costs bearing down on the American people, that nonetheless, throughout the survey, you can see this understanding that while America has been attuned to other things, China has emerged as a huge, huge challenge.”

While the new administration has moved away from Mr Trump’s most heavy-handed attacks – such as the former president’s repeated use of the phrase “China virus” – Mr Biden and his cabinet have explicitly linked the big foreign policy challenge posed by Beijing to basic household concerns.

“You have to go right back to the Cold War, Ronald Reagan, if not earlier, to find a sense that domestic spending priorities in R&D, in critical technologies for the future, spending on the homeland, [are] so explicitly linked to a foreign policy, international affairs, strategic goal,” Professor Jackman said.

“I think that says a lot about where the United States is, and there’s very little bipartisan division on that.”

The United States Studies Centre survey will be released next week in Canberra as part of its annual State of the United States report.

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