Late last year I was somewhat cross with the American public, wondering about our collapsing educational standards and sources of basic info, in light of the Pew study showing that 44 percent of Americans thought that China was the "world's leading economic power." My perhaps intemperate response at the time:
Now it turns out that it's not just us. According to the redoubtable Lowy Institute in Sydney and its just-released annual survey of Australian opinion, a full 55 percent of Australians think China is the world's leading economic power, followed by 32 percent choosing the United States (then eight percent for Europe, three for Japan, two everything else). Download link at Lowy's home page.
Of course you can understand this reaction: China is on the move, its scale is immense, according to news reports and coverage of the Beijing Olympics and Shanghai Expo it seems to be able to achieve whatever it wants. But it also has just now surpassed Japan in total economic output -- with ten times as many people (to support) as Japan has. I will say for the millionth time that it is one thing to take China very seriously and prepare for a world in which it plays a major part. It's something else to imagine it already having solved its many and profound (environmental, social, even economic) challenges. But, we'll all see -- maybe the Aussies are more attuned to shifting realities than the Yanks are, or maybe they're getting carried away.