Poll finds Americans largely view Japan favourably

Americans were largely optimistic about Japan's ability to deal with world problems.
Americans were largely optimistic about Japan's ability to deal with world problems. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON •A new poll has found that Americans are broadly favourable towards Japan, with the majority in favour of keeping the relationship between Tokyo and Washington as it is or strengthening it.

What makes the relationship so important to Americans? One key factor appears to be Japan's rising neighbour: China.

The poll, conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs last month, found that when they asked whether the United States should change its relationship with Japan in the face of "an increasingly powerful China", 43 per cent said that the country should strengthen its relationship with Japan, and 46 per cent said that it should keep the relationship the same.

One in 10 Americans said that they thought Washington should downplay its alliance with Japan to improve US relations with China.

Notably, when the Chicago Council asked the same question 10 years ago in 2008, 32 per cent of Americans said the country should strengthen its relationship with Japan, while 54 per cent said there should be no change, and 9 per cent said it should downplay it.

The poll was released after President Donald Trump welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday, marking a second high-profile visit to the Florida resort by the Japanese leader.

Although both leaders are facing scandals and low approval ratings at home, as well as major disagreements over trade, their views of Japan's role in East Asia aligns in a number of significant aspects.

Most strikingly, Mr Trump has criticised Japan's military dependence on the US, while Mr Abe has hopes of altering Japan's pacifist Constitution.

Both leaders have been critical of the threat posed by a rising China - a position held by the majority of the US public, to an extent.

In the Chicago Council's polling, 62 per cent of Americans view China as a rising military power. However, 39 per cent view it as a critical threat facing the US, compared with 78 per cent who said the same of North Korea.

Americans were largely optimistic about Japan's ability to deal with world problems, with a total of 62 per cent saying that they had a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in the country; in contrast, 41 per cent said the same of China.

On a personal level, Mr Abe was viewed favourably by 64 per cent of Americans, compared with 32 per cent who said the same of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

A 65 per cent majority of Americans described China and Japan as mostly rivals, while 49 per cent said that of their own country's relationship with China.

Meanwhile, 46 per cent of Americans said they want Japan to take more responsibility in East Asia - a roughly similar percentage to what they say about South Korea and China. When asked what more Japan could do, 49 per cent of Americans said they were in favour of Japan building up its military to deal with regional threats.

The relative support for a more militaristic Japan among Americans - including Mr Trump, who has dubbed the country a "warrior nation" - is not necessarily shared widely in Japan.

Attempts to reform the country's post-war Constitution have proved consistently controversial, with recent polls showing majority opposition. To change the Constitution, Mr Abe would likely need to win a referendum.

But American support for Japan may not be the result of a deep knowledge of the country. The Chicago Council noted that 7 per cent of Americans reported having visited Japan. In each question about what more Japan could do internationally, at least one-third of respondents said they did not know enough to respond.

The Chicago Council's survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research between Feb 20 and March 6, with a weighted national sample of 1,037 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2018, with the headline 'Poll finds Americans largely view Japan favourably'. Print Edition | Subscribe