China’s rise on the world stage is one of the most significant developments of the 21st century. As that nation expands its influence in Asia and elsewhere, America’s economic, diplomatic and military policymakers are wrestling with the implications for the United States and the international distribution of power. Among the general public, continued concern about the global economy and recognition of China’s growing economic might have contributed to a mounting sense of uncertainty about America’s status as a world leader. Signs suggest that China’s military power and diplomatic clout will continue to grow, making the security relationship between these two major powers a centerpiece of foreign policy debates during the 2012 presidential campaign and in years to come.

Against this backdrop, a unique, collaborative undertaking between leading research institutions in Washington and Beijing – the U.S.-China Security Perceptions Project – was launched in 2011. The members of the project team include, on the U.S. side, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), the Pew Research Center, and the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. On the Chinese side, the members include the China Strategic Culture Promotion Association (CSCPA), a national non-profit civil society group that does security-related analysis, and the Research Center for Contemporary China (RCCC) at Peking University.

This project emerged from an awareness of the growing influence, in both the United States and especially China, of both public and elite attitudes on what many analysts recognize as the increasingly turbulent bilateral security relationship. Its objective is to obtain non-partisan policy-relevant data and insights on the evolving content and influence of such attitudes, as policymakers seek to reduce the likelihood of serious future bilateral crises or conflicts. The project intends to discover and analyze the views of the public and elites in five distinct categories – government, business, academia, the military and the media – regarding a wide range of national security issues, from the nature of American and Chinese power, both globally and in Asia, to the images held of one another’s national character.

On the U.S. side, the Pew Research Center has conducted, in consultation with CEIP and the Kissinger Institute, the elite and public surveys, while the RCCC and CSCPA have together performed similar tasks in China. This project report by the Pew Research Center conveys the initial findings of the U.S. surveys, including the views of the American public and U.S. foreign affairs experts. Future reports by the project will include findings from parallel surveys in China.

In addition, as part of the broader project, workshops are planned in both Washington and Beijing that will bring together leading experts on U.S.-China relations, as well as representatives of the expert groups polled by the project, to discuss in detail the survey findings and their implications for policy in the United States and China. Following the workshops, CEIP, the Kissinger Institute, and CSCPA will issue a final report on the project. In the longer term, the aim is to make the surveys and workshops a regular event, charting changes over time in how Americans and Chinese see one another in the national security realm.

We believe the surveys in the United States and China bring a unique perspective to an important topic in international affairs and will provide insights on the reasoning behind each country’s security policies and behavior over time. We hope the findings will thereby help to inform policymakers, the media and the global public about important issues in these two countries.