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US still seen as top economic power, but China looms: poll

The United States is still viewed as the world's leading economic power in many countries, according to polls in 39 nations by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project.

WASHINGTON // The United States is still viewed as the world's leading economic power in many countries, according to polls in 39 nations by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project. But as the Great Recession has buffeted the US economy, China has gained rapidly in the eyes of the rest of the world, and many say it ultimately will replace America as the world's top global economic force.

In 22 of the 39 nations polled, the US is seen as the top global economy, while China is viewed as having the upper hand in eight countries, including US allies Canada, Britain, Germany and France. Surprisingly, Americans are about evenly divided over which country has the stronger economy, with 44 per cent saying China and 39 per cent the United States.

Since 2008, the population share that calls China the world's top economy has just about doubled in Spain, Germany and Britain, nearly tripled in Russia, and gained 22 points in France. Of the 20 countries Pew surveyed in both 2008 and 2013, all but two are now significantly more likely to say China is the world's leading economic power.

In 18 of the countries polled, half or more believe China has or will replace the US as the world's top economic force, while majorities in only three believe the US will maintain its top economic position.

The surveys, conducted before news about the NSA's surveillance programs broke, also found that 37 of the 39 countries saw the US as a good steward of individual liberty than a poor one.

Before leaks of classified documents revealed widespread US tracking of internet communications among people in other countries, many said they were confident that US President Barack Obama would do the right thing in world affairs, including 88 per cent in Germany and 83 per cent in France, two allies whose official reactions to the spying programme have been broadly negative. Few in those nations think the US gives their countries' concerns much weight when setting foreign policy; just 35 per cent in France and half in Germany say America considers their interests at least "a fair amount".

Other findings from the surveys:

- The US is viewed favourably by a majority in 28 of the 38 other nations tracked in the poll, with favourability ratings above 80 per cent in Ghana, Senegal and Kenya in Africa, Israel in the Middle East and the Philippines in Asia. America fares worst in the Middle East, where most have an unfavourable opinion in five of seven nations surveyed, including 81 per cent with a negative view in Egypt and 70 per cent unfavourable in Turkey.

- Among those in nations that receive US economic aid, Egyptians and Pakistanis are more apt to say the assistance is having a negative effect on their country, while other African nations surveyed view such assistance as a positive influence.

- Majorities in just three of the 39 countries say they approve of the US use of drones to target extremists: Israel (64 per cent approve), the United States (61 per cent approve) and Kenya (56 per cent approve).

- More than 9 in 10 in Japan (96 per cent) and South Korea (91 per cent) say that China's growing military power is a bad thing.

The Pew Research Center interviewed 37,653 respondents in 39 countries from March 2 through May 1, 2013. Interviews were conducted face-to-face or by telephone, depending on the country, and are representative of at least 95 per cent of the adult population of each nation except for China and Pakistan, where the samples were disproportionately urban, Argentina, Bolivia, Greece, Indonesia and Malaysia, where some difficult to reach or rural populations were excluded, and the Czech Republic and Japan, where interviews were conducted either by cellular or landline telephone only.

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