Americans Choose Up Sides — Japan Over China

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President Obama greets Japan Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda at White House last month.

TOKYO – Maybe it’s sympathy from last year’s triple disasters or maybe it’s just China being China. But for what it’s worth, Americans increasingly view Japan as its most important ally in Asia.

A poll released Tuesday finds that 50% of the U.S. public thinks Japan is America’s most important partner in this part of the world, compared to 39% who favor China.  While support for Japan jumped from 31% last year, support for China, which has been rapidly modernizing its military and making aggressive territorial claims in the region, remained even.

A record 84% of Americans think that Japan is a “dependable” friend and ally and nearly 90% say the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which commits the U.S. to the defense of Japan, “should be maintained.”  About 50,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Japan.

The poll was conducted in February and March by the Gallup Organization and was commissioned by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Full poll results here; charts here.

Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University of Japan, in Tokyo, says that U.S.-Japan relations are good, but cautions against reading too much into the poll results.

“The fact is, the American public and the president of the United States spend very little time thinking about Japan,” Dujarric said. “They have more important problems to deal with.”