Americans now looking to Asia more than Europe
BY JUDY DEMPSEY
BERLIN — 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 Wednesday.
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.
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 U.S. 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 percent).
The results are a significant reversal in attitudes among Americans from 2004, when a majority of U.S. respondents (54 percent) 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 favorable opinion of China (59 percent) but older people, aged 45 to 54, feeling less so (33 percent).
Seventy-six percent of younger Americans identified Asia as more important to their national interests, as opposed to 31 percent 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 percent of respondents felt that China was an economic threat and 31 percent 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 percent of Americans thought the same.
Yet while 67 percent of European respondents considered E.U. membership good for the economy, only 40 percent of respondents among the 17 euro-zone countries felt that the euro had been good for their country's economy. In the United States, 82 percent of respondents said they had been affected by the economic crisis, compared to 61 percent in Europe. Majorities across Europe disapproved of their governments' handling of the economy.
The fight against terrorism, which over the past few years has divided Europeans and strained Europe's ties with the United States, has led to new attitudes.
For the first time, a majority of Americans (56 percent) said they were pessimistic about the chances of stabilizing Afghanistan. European pessimism remains high (66 percent). Both Americans and Europeans said they believed troop levels should be reduced or withdrawn. About 62 percent of American and European respondents believed that NATO was essential.
In regard to efforts to support democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, 62 percent of European respondents said they believed that the European Union should be involved; 29 percent said the Union should stay out completely. In the United States, 43 percent believed in playing a role, and 50 percent 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 E.U. 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. ◼
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