More countries view China as world's leading economic power, says Pew survey

WASHINGTON (THE WASHINGTON POST) - China's economic might is catching up to the United States - or is seen to be catching up.

That is according to a new report from the Pew Research Centre, which released results of a 38-nation survey last Thursday (July 13).

While the majority of those polled still correctly believe the US is the world's biggest economy, 12 nations - including Canada, Russia, and most of western Europe - believe China has the largest economy in the world.

Pew detected a dramatic shift: only six nations said Beijing possessed the world's strongest economy when the question was asked between 2014 and 2016.

Since then, the number of countries that view the US as playing second fiddle to China has doubled. And more striking is the change that has taken place in just the past year: Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, and Italy all went from seeing America as the biggest player to viewing China as the top dog.

In Asia, where countries are closer to China's brand of geoeconomic bigfooting, the story is quite a bit different.

A host of US allies and partners, including Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and India all see the US as the global economic powerhouse.

Notably, there is one regional exception: Australia now believes China is the biggest player.

Pew attributes the rise of China's standing to the aftermath of the Great Recession.

"While the United States and other relatively wealthy Western nations have slowly bounced back from the crisis, economic growth rates have been low compared with those of China, India and other emerging economies," the report said.

This change in perception makes some sense, given US President Donald Trump's retreat from the global stage.

He has pulled out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal meant to create an Asian free trade zone.

He has pulled back on a potential trade deal with Europe. And he is renegotiating Nafta with Mexico and Canada.

But given China's deep-seated economic woes - rising labour costs; crushing corporate and government debt; woefully inefficient state firms; rampant pollution; a dearth of arable land and clean water; and a shrinking workforce - many experts are a lot more worried about a Chinese slowdown than about Beijing stealing the global economic crown.

The poll, taken among nearly 42,000 respondents, also offers an eloquent view of how the world sees great power leaders.

Some 53 per cent figure Chinese President Xi Jinping will do the wrong thing in international affairs; Russian president Vladimir Putin sours 59 per cent of the population. But 74 per cent of respondents said they had little or no confidence in Mr Trump.

The only world leader to receive positive marks in this category is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with 42 per cent expressing confidence in her.

The overall standing of the US on the world stage is also in decline.

From 2014 to 2016, 64 per cent of those polled held a favourable view of the US. That is down to 49 per cent in 2017. The view of China remained relatively flat, dropping from 50 to 47 per cent.

Dr Ed Goldberg, a professor at the NYU Centre for Global Affairs, said that Mr Trump's rise on the world stage has emboldened China, as reflected in the Pew results.

"Xi is seen as the grown up in the room," Dr Goldberg said.