China neighbors worry sea dispute will lead to war: Survey

Asia fears territorial disputes may bring war: Study

As China flexes its muscles over territorial claims in the South and East China Seas, concerns are rising that friction between Beijing and its neighbors will lead to military conflict.

According to a new survey by Pew Research Center, majorities in eight of 11 Asian countries surveyed are "very concerned" about a possible military confrontation with Beijing, including 93 percent of Filipinos, 85 percent of Japanese, 84 percent of Vietnamese and 83 percent of South Koreans. In China itself, over 60 percent are concerned about a possible conflict.

"On the one hand people want close ties with China economically, but when it comes to the security realm, China's growing assertiveness [and] its rising military strength drive pretty strong concerns in Asia," Richard Wike, director of Global Attitudes Research at Pew Research Center told CNBC on Tuesday.

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China has been embroiled in territorial disputes with its neighbors for centuries, but its growing assertiveness about its rights in the region has escalated tensions in the past year.

China lays claim to Japanese-administered islets in the East China Sea, known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese. It also claims the South China Sea nearly in its entirety, rejecting rival claims from Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.

The South China Sea is home to rich fishing grounds and untapped seams of oil and natural gas. It's also a busy sea lane, with half the world's trade and 80 percent of crude oil supplies passing through its waters.

A group of protesters chanting slogans against the Chinese incursions within the West Philippine Sea.
J Gerard Seguia | Pacific Press/LightRocket | Getty Images

"Americans watch all this Asian regional territorial tension with a wary eye. The United States has a long-standing security alliance with Japan, a new military pact with the Philippines, a budding economic relationship with Vietnam and a long-term interest in improving strategic ties with India," Pew said.

Two-thirds of Americans are concerned that territorial disputes with China's neighbors could lead to military conflict, the survey showed.

How the world views China

As China's economic and military might grow, the way other countries view the Asian superpower differs widely across the world.

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"As China's economy has continued to grow over the past several years, it has developed extensive economic ties with nations around the world, generating both goodwill and anxieties about economic competition," Pew said.

Across the countries surveyed, a median of 49 percent expressed a favorable opinion of China, while 32 percent offer an unfavorable rating.

Its overall image in the United States and Europe is mostly negative. Only 35 percent of Americans have a positive view of China, while 55 percent have a negative one.

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"China's image in the U.S. has become more negative in recent years – as recently as 2011 half of Americans gave China a positive rating," Pew said.

Meanwhile, roughly half or more in Italy, Germany, Poland, Spain and France give China an unfavorable rating. The United Kingdom is the only European Union nation polled in which opinions about China are on balance favorable.

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