It’s flattering as a Japanese to know that 10% of the Americans polled in the Pew Research Center’s 2008 Global Attitudes Survey gave Japan as the “world’s leading economic power”—46% of the Americans chose the United States, while the EU also received 10%—less pleasing, if not unexpected, to learn that China garnered 26%*. In fact, Japan was outpolled by China in 22 of the 24 countries where the survey took place. The exceptions? Brazil and Russia, with margins of 16% to 15% and 25% to 12% respectively**.
Brazil is no surprise, given the presence of a large and respected Japanese community there, as well as the mutually reinforcing economic relationship that flourished during what may have turned out to be Japan’s best years. We have a reputation there. Still, it was a close call. But Russia? What do the people there know? What do they care? After after all, we’re on the fringes of the least-inhabited— least-habitable—eastern edge of the Russian empire.
Russians, more than other Europeans, have a historical fear of the Yellow Peril; the Russian empire has been a payback of sorts. A resurgent China making a move on East Siberia is a nightmare come true for the demographically and geographically challenged Russians. Japan by contrast is that funny little counterbalance beyond the sea, the enemy of my enemy—never mind the Russo-Japanese War.
So a strong Japan is a useful Japan. I suspect that for many Russians, their choice has more to with what they want Japan to be, not what they expect.
* In Germany and Australia, China outpolled the U.S. 30% to 25% and 40% to 37% respectively. In fact, these two were the only ones among the 24 countries in the survey to deny the United States the number one spot.
**The United States beat both Japan and China, with an overwhelming 52% in Brazil and less convincingly with 32% in Russia.