Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Beacon No. 63: The Slide Stops


In "U.S. Fails to Mend Image in Europe" (no link), the Wall Street Journal's Marc Champion summarizes the state of European view of the U.S.:

An annual survey of opinion in 11 countries published today finds that, while the U.S.'s image is no longer sliding downward, Europeans feel no warmer toward the U.S. than they did a year ago, are no less hostile to U.S. global leadership and still disapprove overwhelmingly of the way Mr. Bush handles foreign policy.

"We found that, despite major efforts to repair relations, there is still a rift in how we view each other and the world," said Craig Kennedy, president of the German Marshall Fund, which conducted the survey of roughly 1,000 people in the U.S. and about 1,000 people in each of nine European Union countries, plus Turkey, in June.

See here for results of the Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Trends survey.

The Journal's Marc Champion says that even though the Bush administration has held out multiple olive branches to European nations and has increased cooperation with, say, France on getting Syria out of Lebanon, European opinion remains focused on the "bloodshed and instability in Iraq."

On the same page in today's Journal is Cui Rong, Zhou Yang and Kathy Chen's "Hurricane Response Dims Chinese View of the U.S." (no link). It ledes with:

The rosy view of the U.S. once held by many Chinese, already eroded by the 1999 U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade—which Washington maintains was an accident—and U.S. treatment of war-zone detainees and terrorist suspects, is fading further due to the fumbled response to Hurricane Katrina. ...

At least for now ... it is more a matter of disenchantment rather than disengagement. Zhang Weifeng, for example, always believed the U.S. government worked like a well-oiled machine. But after watching television footage of the post-Katrina chaos each night, the 28-year-old accountant sees the U.S. in a different light.

"I had thought this could only happen in developing countries," he says. In fact, "the U.S. government is not as powerful and efficient in critical moments as I have imagined."

The three WSJ writers note that China's citizens may be ending a natural period of infatuation with the U.S. that began when China began embracing elements of capitalism:

... Liu Jinzhi, a professor of international relations at Peking University, points out that in the past 50 years, Chinese people's views have gone from one extreme to the other: Vilified under the Communist system, the U.S. has been idealized during the past two decades of market changes.

"I think now Chinese people are coming close to a true picture of the U.S.," Prof. Liu says. He adds that in the long run, the change in public opinion toward the U.S. could restrict Chinese leaders' [options] in making foreign policy" and pressure them to take tougher positions."

By controlling information flows into the country, the PRC leadership has been able to keep China's citizens on board with its foreign-policy initiatives. But now that increasing numbers of Chinese have routine, uncontrolled access to foreign media, those leaders are finding that opinion counts. Although China isn't close to being a democracy, its populace is evolving to the point where, as in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it will act as a veto on Chinese leaders' wishes. The power to say "no" to the government is still power, and I expect Chinese citizens will start using it in the next few years.

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