Going the Asian way than Europe

Americans are turning their attention away from Europe toward Asia in what could mark the beginning of a major shift in the relationship between nations across the Atlantic, according to an annual survey published last week. The survey, Trans-Atlantic Trends 2011, is a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Compagnia di San Paolo, a centuries-old private foundation in Italy.

By Judy Dempsey

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Published: Sun 18 Sep 2011, 9:34 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:56 AM

Over the past 10 years, Trans-Atlantic Trends has been conducting extensive surveys on both sides of the Atlantic about how the Americans and Europeans view each other and the policies of their leaders.

This year, the survey showed that a majority of US respondents (51 percent) felt that Asian countries like China, Japan and South Korea were more important to national interests than the countries of the European Union (38 per cent).

The results are a significant reversal in attitudes among Americans from 2004, when a majority of US respondents (54 per cent) viewed the countries of Europe as more important to their vital interests than the countries of Asia.

This year’s survey “marks a potential sea change for the trans-Atlantic relationship,” Craig Kennedy, president of the German Marshall Fund, said in introducing the report. “We may have arrived at a watershed moment when the United States looks west to the Far East as its first instinct. This is a moment when trans-Atlantic leaders need to step up and lead.”

The report showed how a generation gap has emerged among Americans, with most young people aged 18 to 24 having a favourable opinion of China (59 per cent) but older people, aged 45 to 54, feeling less so (33 per cent).

Seventy-six per cent of younger Americans identified Asia as more important to their national interests, as opposed to 31 per cent of Europeans who felt that way.

In contrast, the Europeans see China as an economic opportunity rather than a threat. Majorities in The Netherlands, Sweden, Britain and Germany said they considered China an economic opportunity. This was the reverse of the United States, where 63 per cent of respondents felt that China was an economic threat and 31 per cent saw it as an opportunity.

There were, however, few differences among respondents over how governments should cope with the economic crisis on both sides of the Atlantic. Half the European respondents preferred to decrease government spending rather than maintain current levels or increase it. More than 60 per cent of Americans thought the same.

For the first time, a majority of Americans (56 per cent) said they were pessimistic about the chances of stabilising Afghanistan. European pessimism remains high (66 per cent).

In regard to efforts to support democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, 62 per cent of European respondents said they believed that the European Union should be involved; 29 per cent said the Union should stay out completely. In the United States, 43 per cent believed in playing a role, and 50 per cent said America should stay out completely.

The surveys were conducted by phone and in person from May 25 to June 17 in the United States, Turkey and 12 EU countries: Britain, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden. A random sample of 1,000 adults was interviewed in each country. The margin of sampling error in each was plus or minus three percentage points.

Judy Dempsey is a commentator on European Affairs

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