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Poll: Record number of Americans say China greatest US enemy

President of China Xi Jinping. (Kremlin/Released)
March 16, 2021

According to a new Gallup poll released Tuesday, 45 percent of Americans now believe China is the greatest enemy of the U.S., a figure nearly double what it was last year.

The poll was administered between Feb. 3 and 18 of 2021. The same poll conducted between Feb. 3 and 16 last year showed just 23 percent of Americans viewed China as the greatest U.S. enemy and concern overall about China grew 22 percentage points over the previous year.

The change in the last year puts China ahead of Russia as the greatest U.S. enemy in the minds of most Americans. In 2020, 23 percent of Americans viewed Russia as the greatest enemy. That number rose just three percentage points over the last year, with 26 percent of Americans currently viewing Russia as the greater threat.

Concern about North Korea dropped three percent from 12 percent to nine percent of Americans viewing it as the greatest enemy.

Concern about Iran dropped more dramatically, with four percent of Americans viewing it as the greatest threat in 2021, compared to 19 percent who saw it as the greatest threat in 2020.

Concern about Iraq also fell off since 2020, with two percent of Americans viewing it as the greatest threat in 2021, down from seven percent the previous year.

One percent of Americans called the U.S. its own worst enemy, a number that remained constant in the last year.

Along with 45 percent of Americans viewing China as the greatest enemy to the U.S., 50 percent of survey respondents viewed China as the leading world economic power in 2021 while 39 percent viewed the U.S. in that role. In 2020, those roles were reversed, with 50 percent of Americans believing the U.S. is the dominant economic power compared to 37 percent who viewed China in that role. While the U.S. remains the actual largest world economy and China the second largest, Americans have alternated between picking the U.S. and China as the leading economy since 2020, and Gallup believes that the choice Americans select is often reflective of public views about the current health of the U.S. economy.

The rise in concern about China as an enemy to the U.S. comes amid a number of China-related concerns over the past year.

The first cases of the worldwide COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic were recorded in Wuhan, China. Some U.S. officials, including members of President Donald Trump’s administration further raised the possibility the outbreak began in a Wuhan virology lab, and China has been criticized for initially downplaying the severity of the virus.

China has made concerning advancements in its military in recent years, with China overtaking the U.S. for the country with the largest naval fleet in 2020. A Pentagon study, released in September 2020, also projected China is on track to at least double its nuclear arsenal within the next decade.

China has also been suspected of several major recent hacking efforts targeting the U.S., including efforts to steal U.S. vaccine research.

Negative American views of China may also stem from the added scrutiny the U.S. has given to China’s human rights record against its Uyghur population, which the Trump administration labeled a genocide. China has also seen addd scrutiny after its legislative takeover of Hong Kong last summer and its growing threats to Taiwan.

The U.S. has begun to grow what has been called an “alliance of democracies” to counter China’s influence.