Americans Seek Closer Ties with Asian Allies

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: The American public is overwhelmingly in favor of strengthening ties with U.S. allies in Asia, namely Japan, just short of getting entrenched in the continent’s internal conflicts – namely, a potential conflict between China and Japan.

Two years into the Trump Administration, the Chicago Council took the temperature of American public opinion towards the United States, China and Japan, including how these three countries interact, or should interact, with each other on the global stage.

According to the Council’s wide-ranging polling, Americans across the political spectrum prefer closer ties with traditional allies, desire closer allies with Asian allies, and prioritize aiding the security of said allies in the face of existing (North Korea) and anticipated (China) threats alike.

The study’s key findings reveal record highs of bipartisan consensus on these areas of U.S. foreign policy in Asia:

Allies, China or Bust

If it meant risking one, would the United States prioritize strengthening ties with our traditional Asian allies or would the U.S. prioritize building new ties with China? In one of the few areas of the Chicago Council’s 2018 survey where the partisan gap narrowed, two-thirds of Republicans (68%), Democrats (66%), and Independents (66%) agreed with focusing on traditional allies. 

The Council singles out South Korea and Japan as the key allies the U.S. would choose over China, but the depth of America’s historical ties with Japan steers the questionnaire towards the existing and potential parameters of U.S.-Japanese relations moving forward.

American Economy & Security and… Japan

91% of Americans, across party lines, say the U.S.-Japan relationship is important to the U.S. economy, putting it on par with public opinion of China (92%) and Canada (90%).

While 79% to 81% of Americans across party lines also consider Japan important to U.S. security, the public ranks China, (85%), Canada (84%), and Russia (83%) higher in their respective importance to U.S. security.

Whether the importance of Russia or China, for instance, is positive or negative for U.S. security was not included in the polling. Japan however is indisputably considered a positive asset for U.S. security, with a record number of Americans voicing support in 2018 for building U.S. military bases in Japan.

U.S. support for long-term bases has been increasing across party lines since 2010, reaching an all-time high in 2018 with 65% of Americans in agreement, including 72% of Republicans and 65% of Democrats.

Japanese Influence & Security and… America 

American friendship doesn’t always breed power on the world stage. While Americans still consider the Japanese friends, Americans in 2018 don’t consider Japan a highly influential player in the world, giving them a 5.7 on a 10-point scale of global influence.

A near majority (40%) of Americans define Japanese influence by its track record in technology and innovation. In contrast, Americans cite military and economic prowess to demonstrate power, and throw China brownie points for its economic power. Evidently, the American mind is wed to traditional security and economic parameters for power. 

Without a reputation for military might and due to an increasingly aggressive China and an unpredictably nuclear North Korea, Japan has merited the American public’s most valuable security assurance: boots on the ground. It just depends on the threat. 

A sharp increase from recent years, 64% of Americans in 2018 would support using U.S. troops to defend Japan in the event North Korea attacks. Comparatively, only 4 in 10 (41%) of Americans would be willing to involve U.S. forces in a Japan-China conflict – most likely over disputed islands.


The Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy, which builds on the Trump Administration’s National Security Strategy, identifies China as one of the two (Russia being the other) principal threats facing the U.S. today. It is perhaps only natural then that Americans are increasingly eager to cozy up to our allies on the continent, and subsequently more willing to defend them against our enemies.

On some elements of U.S. foreign policy, not only can parties find common ground, but even in 2019, the American public can find commonality with U.S. government strategy.

Read the full report here

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