Many See China Rivaling U.S. in Influence by 2020, International Survey Finds

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 14, 2007; A33

BERLIN, Dec. 13 -- The world's perception of China as a major global power is growing, with many people believing it will rival the United States in influence by 2020, according to a major survey released this week.

Russia's image as a world power has also rebounded sharply in the last two years, while India and Brazil are expected to emerge rapidly as economic and political heavyweights, according to the survey by the Bertelsmann Foundation, a German research group.

Almost 9,000 people in nine of the world's most powerful countries -- the United States, China, Russia, Japan, Germany, France, Britain , India and Brazil -- were polled to determine public perceptions of "who rules the world," as the foundation put it in the title of its report.

The results showed that 81 percent of those surveyed regard the United States as a world power today (the remaining 19 percent, for unstated reasons, disagreed).

Only 61 percent said they would put the United States in the power category by 2020. In comparison, 50 percent judged China as a world power now, but 57 percent said it would be by 2020.

The survey did not offer a definition of "world power" to those questioned, and responses varied greatly by country.

For instance, 81 percent of Germans and 76 percent of Britons classified the European Union as a present-day world power. Only 5 percent of people in India felt the same way.

Bertelsmann conducted a similar survey in 2005. In the two years since then, the number of those who ranked the United States as a world power has remained the same, while the figure for China rose slightly.

Russia saw the biggest boost, with 39 percent of respondents classifying it as a world power today, compared with 27 percent two years ago.

The country's standing soared in Europe, with more Germans (70 percent) and Britons (65 percent) rating Russia as a world power than Russians themselves (58 percent).

Respondents ranked climate change, international terrorism, poverty and overpopulation, in that order, as the most serious threats facing the world.

Bertelsmann officials said they wanted to measure perceptions of current reality in global power politics, but also how the public foresees the near future.

"We did it in the first place because we want to know what will become of the new world order," Stefani Weiss, Bertelsmann's project manager for the survey, said in a telephone interview from Brussels.

"Is it really going to be a world power game in the future, with big states setting the agenda? Or do people think we are headed toward something different," she added, with multinational organizations such as the E.U. and the United Nations becoming more influential.

On that count, only 33 percent of those surveyed in the nine countries expected the E.U. to become a world power by 2020, down from 34 percent today.

The number granting the same status to the United Nations also fell, from 30 percent now to 27 percent in the future.