Clinton's Asia Visit Builds on U.S. Soft Power in Region

Feb 10, 2009, 11:27 ET from The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Asian Publics Rank U.S. Ahead of A Rising China

CHICAGO, Feb. 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Hillary Clinton's forthcoming visit to Asia, her first trip abroad as U.S. secretary of state, signals the rising importance of the region to the United States over the past decade. Secretary Clinton will find that the United States is the region's undisputed soft-power leader, according to an index of soft power recently published by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the East Asia Institute. The index shows that the Obama Administration has a solid platform on which to build its relationship with countries in the region.

In 2008, The Chicago Council surveyed 6,000 people in six countries (China, the United States, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and Vietnam). The data collected was compiled into an index, the first and only one of its kind, which measures attitudes towards soft power in Asia in five separate categories -- cultural, political, diplomatic, economic, and human capital.

"The center of gravity in international politics is moving from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The United States is the leading source of soft power in Asia," commented Thomas Wright, Executive Director of Studies at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. "Secretary Clinton's choice of Asia as her first official foreign trip shows that the Obama administration is determined to make use of this strength to address the many challenges in the region."

The soft power index findings include:

  • The United States ranks first in terms of overall soft power in China, Japan, and South Korea, and second (next to Japan) in Indonesia and Vietnam. All countries rank the United States above China in soft power.
  • When separated into categories, the United States leads China in four (Political, Diplomatic, Human Capital, and Economic), while China leads the United States in one (Cultural).
  • Majorities or pluralities in all Asian countries surveyed believe that U.S. influence in Asia has increased over the past ten years. Only a majority of Americans believe that U.S. influence has remained about the same.
  • Chinese perceptions of the United States have grown noticeably warmer compared to The Chicago Council's 2006 survey, and Chinese demonstrate consistently positive attitudes towards U.S. influence in Asia.
  • Overall, China fairs much worse than expected in soft power -- strong majorities in Japan (74%), South Korea (74%), the United States (70%), and a plurality in Indonesia (47%), believe that China could become a military threat to their country.
  • Majorities in the United States, Japan and South Korea believe that the U.S. military presence in Asia is a stabilizing force that is helping to prevent an arms race between Japan and China; a majority in China is of the opposite opinion and Indonesians are split.

In addition to the soft power index, The Chicago Council's 2008 study of public opinion provides findings about the American public's attitudes towards Asia that are relevant to Secretary Clinton's trip:

  • On a barometer of how Americans feel towards other nations (with 0 meaning a very cold, unfavorable feeling, 100 meaning a very warm, favorable feeling, and 50 being neutral), Japan ranks well ahead of China, with a mean rating of 59 compared to China's 41.
  • Additionally, 67 percent of Americans view China as an unfair trade partner.
  • Americans see Japan as influential and important, they also want to see Japan do more to contribute to international security.
  • When asked whether Japan or China is more important to the United States in terms of "vital interests," a majority of Americans say China is more important (51%), while 44 percent say Japan is more important.

Conclusions are based on two Chicago Council public opinion surveys conducted in early to mid 2008. For more information and to download the full reports, please visit

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, founded in 1922, is a prominent, independent and nonpartisan organization committed to influencing the discourse on global issues through contributions to opinion and policy formation, leadership dialogue, and public learning. The Chicago Council has been conducting nationwide public opinion surveys on American views on foreign policy since 1972. These surveys provide insights into the current and long-term foreign policy attitudes of the American public on a wide range of global topics.

SOURCE The Chicago Council on Global Affairs