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Caught in the middle? East Asians worried about US-China conflict

US treaty allies are especially concerned that escalating tensions will have negative consequences for their countries. Wonder why.

Reporting | Asia-Pacific

Nine out of ten adult citizens of three key East Asian nations with which the United States has enjoyed close military ties are either “somewhat” or “very worried” about a geopolitical confrontation between the U.S. and China, according to a new poll released Monday by the Eurasia Group Foundation.

An average of 62 percent of respondents in Singapore, South Korea, and the Philippines said they believed more intense competition between the two global powers will have negative consequences for their countries’ national security, according to the survey, which was carried out by YouGov.

Respondents also expressed concern that escalating tensions between Beijing and Washington would also result in political polarization within their countries as opposing parties would be pressed to take sides with one power or the other.

Significant majorities in South Korea and the Philippines — both treaty allies of the United States — expressed particular concern about both the national security and domestic political ramifications of increased tensions, while respondents in Singapore evidenced significantly less concern, according to EGF’s report on the poll results, entitled “Caught in the Middle: Views of US-China Competition Across Asia.”

Unlike the two U.S. allies, respondents in Singapore expressed slightly more favorable views of China (56 percent) than of the U.S. (48 percent). Views of China were particularly negative in South Korea where 85 percent of respondents expressed either “unfavorable” or “very unfavorable views” of their much larger neighbor. In the Philippines, 70 percent of respondents said they had unfavorable views of China.

The poll was taken between late April and early May amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing over a number of issues, particularly Taiwan, new U.S. military basing agreements with the Philippines, and territorial claims and naval exercises in the South China Sea. A total of 1,500 adults in the three countries were interviewed, 500 in each country. They included a nationally representative sample in Singapore and South Korea, while, for the Philippines, the interview were representative of the online population, according to EGF.

Respondents were initially asked to choose among a number of problems what they felt were the most “pressing concerns” facing their country. Large majorities across all three countries cited unemployment and economic recession, and the wealth gap between rich and poor, with climate change coming in a strong third. 

The next most commonly cited pressing concern, however, was “tensions between the U.S. and China” (49.2 percent), ahead of “global pandemics,” “political instability,” and “human rights,” among other issues. Nearly six in ten South Koreans cited U.S.-China tensions as a “pressing concern,” followed by 48.6 percent of Singaporean respondents, and 41.3 percent of Filipino respondents. 

Reporting | Asia-Pacific
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