Americans Want Joe Biden to Take on China, but Aren't Sure He Will: Poll

A new poll released Thursday shows that President Joe Biden has the backing of Americans across the political spectrum to take on the Chinese Communist Party in a contest set to loom over U.S. foreign policy for generations to come.

The Pew Research Center published the results of a new survey on Thursday showing that the majority of Americans now consider China either an enemy or a competitor, and that they expect the new president to put democracy and human rights above any potential economic benefit of cooperation with Beijing.

Pew polled a nationally representative group of 2,596 American adults between February 1 and 7, 2021, all drawn from the Center's American Trends Panel; an online group used for surveys recruited through random sampling of residential addresses across the country.

The results showed broad bipartisan skepticism towards the CCP and China, though Republican respondents were generally more hostile to Beijing than Democrats.

Eighty-nine percent of those surveyed said they consider China either a competitor or enemy, with 34 percent choosing enemy. Of the Republicans, 53 percent chose enemy versus 20 percent of Democrats. Overall, only 9 percent of respondents consider China a partner.

Almost half—48 percent—also think that limiting China's power and influence should be a top foreign policy priority for the U.S. Though still just the minority, this figure is up 32 percent from previous Pew research conducted in 2018.

Republicans are again driving this trend, with 63 percent of GOP and right-leaning voters wanting to contain China versus 36 percent of Democrats.

Concern about Chinese behavior is rising across the board. U.S.-China relations have been soured by four years of combative diplomacy by former President Donald Trump, combined with the devastating coronavirus pandemic that originated in China.

The CCP has been accused of failing to properly warn the world of the danger, blocking international efforts to probe the origin of the outbreak, and of subsequently trying to dodge blame for its damage with the help of a wide-ranging disinformation campaign.

But Americans' concerns about China are not limited to the pandemic. Pew found that 65 percent of respondents now believe that Chinese cyber attacks are a "very serious" problem for the U.S., up seven points on last year.

The same is true of Chinese human rights abuses; a "very serious" problem for 50 percent of respondents, up seven points on a year ago. Fifty-three percent are worried about the loss of U.S. jobs to China, up six points from last year while 52 percent are worried about China's growing military power, six percent more than one year ago.

Other "very serious" concerns are China's growing technological power (47 percent, up from 41 percent last year); tensions between Beijing and Hong Kong (31 percent, up five points from last year); and America's trade deficit with China (43 percent, up one point on last year).

Human rights should be prioritized over economic benefits of partnership, Americans told Pew. Overall, 70 percent believe human rights are more important, including 72 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of Democrats.

Biden inherited frosty ties with Beijing and bipartisan sentiment among lawmakers that the U.S. needs to stand up to China, now the only country—according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken—"with the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system."

Biden promised voters he would be tough on China, and stand up to President Xi Jinping over the CCP's raft of human rights abuses, malign trade practices, and territorial agitation.

But as a veteran politician and former vice president, Biden is tied to decades of failed Western strategy on China that allowed the CCP to enrich itself, entrench its authoritarian system at home, and amass power and influence wielded to undermine the U.S.-led international order.

A Pew poll published last month found that Americans are not yet convinced that Biden has what it takes to face down the CCP. Just over half (53 percent) of respondents said they were confident in Biden's ability to deal with China, with 46 percent not confident. Only 19 percent said they were very confident in Biden's ability to make good decisions regarding China.

Democrats are unsurprisingly more positive, with 83 percent backing Biden's China plans. But among Republicans the figure is just 19 percent.

Some GOP lawmakers on the Hill are also unimpressed to date, for example the 120-member Republican Study Committee congressional caucus which last month warned Biden was already exhibiting a "pattern of weakness" on China.

The CCP has urged Biden to prioritize cooperation over competition, with both Xi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi warning it would be a "disaster" for the world's two largest economies to fall into conflict.

But Biden expressed concern to Xi over Chinese human rights abuses, trade practices, territorial disputes, and the coronavirus pandemic during the first call between the two leaders since the president's inauguration.

Blinken said Wednesday that China poses "the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century."

"Our relationship with China will be competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be," the secretary said. "The common denominator is the need to engage China from a position of strength."

Chinese security agents pictured in Beijing, China
Security agents guard the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference at the Great Hall of the People on March 4, 2021 in Beijing, China. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images/Getty