WASHINGTON (AFP) - China's neighbours are increasingly anxious that Beijing's maritime disputes with countries like Vietnam and the Philippines will lead to military conflict, a US research group said in findings released on Monday.
Even in China itself, polling showed that 62 per cent of the public worried that territorial disputes between China and its neighbours could lead to an armed conflict, according to a broad study conducted in 44 countries by the Pew Research Centre.
"This year, in all 11 Asian nations polled, roughly half or more say they are concerned that territorial disputes between China and its neighbours will lead to a military conflict," the study found.
At 93 per cent, Filipinos were most concerned, followed by the Japanese at 85 per cent, Vietnamese at 84 per cent and South Koreans at 83 per cent, according to Pew.
Beijing and Hanoi in particular are embroiled in an increasingly heated territorial row, the latest chapter of which was sparked by China's positioning of a major oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam.
But the Asian giant has also seen tensions rise with Japan and the Philippines, both of which claim Beijing has taken inappropriate steps in the East and South China Seas, where claims of several island chains are under dispute.
According to the report, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam see China as the greatest threat, while China as well as Malaysia and Pakistan list the United States as the biggest threat.
Every other Asian nation surveyed, including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Thailand, see the United States as their greatest ally - although Indonesia also sees America as its greatest threat.
Among citizens of the 44 nations surveyed, 40 per cent said they believe the United States is the world's present-day superpower, compared to 49 per cent who said so in 2008.
The number who consider China the leading superpower, meanwhile, rose from 19 per cent six years ago to 31 per cent today.
Fifty per cent of respondents said China would eventually replace or has already replaced the United States in that role, compared to just 32 per cent who said China would never do so.
Across the nations surveyed, excluding China, 49 per cent of people expressed a favourable opinion of China, compared to 32 per cent unfavourable.