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Which Country is America’s Biggest Enemy?

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Which Country is America's Biggest Enemy?

Enemy of the State

Which Country Do Americans See As Their Biggest Foe?

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

Between alleged interference in U.S. elections by Russia, recent nuclear posturing by North Korea, and chemical weapon atrocities in Syria – it’s hard to keep track of which country is supposed to be the bona fide number one “enemy” of the United States.

While we can’t tell you exactly what people are thinking in this moment, we do have access to about 15 years worth of polls on the subject. The data ends up painting an interesting backdrop for America’s foreign policy decisions over the same timeframe, as well as the narratives being pushed by major media outlets.

Congrats, Dear Leader

Today’s first map visualizes the most recent data from a YouGov survey between January 28 and February 1, 2017, which was taken just before the most recent string of geopolitical turmoil.

During the survey window, more Americans viewed North Korea as an enemy than any other country, with the Hermit Kingdom being ranked as an “enemy” by 57% of respondents. Of course, new tensions have surfaced since then, as North Korea continues to defy U.S. pressure with further missile tests under Kim Jong-Un. This probably hasn’t helped their case with American citizens.

As you might imagine, aside from North Korea, most of the countries that skew towards the top of the “enemy” spectrum are located in the Middle East and North Africa. Here’s a close-up of that region, with the numbers that specific countries poll at there:

Middle East and North Africa: U.S. Enemies

Looking just at this geographic area, Iran stands out the most with 41% of Americans considering it to be an “enemy”. That places it right behind North Korea on the enemy list, at least as far as this most recent poll is concerned.

Following Iran in the rankings were Syria (32%), Iraq (29%), and Afghanistan (23%).

Changing Enemies Over Time

One thing is for sure: America’s biggest foe isn’t a constant. The identity of America’s arch-nemesis ebbs and flows as global events unfold, and the opinions of citizens are swayed.

The following animation shows the answer to a slightly different poll question, this time by Gallup, which was asked multiple years between 2001 and 2016. Specifically, Americans were asked (unprompted) to name the country that is their “greatest enemy”.

See how the rankings fluctuate over time, including Iraq’s precipitous drop after Saddam was ousted and the country turned out to not have WMDs:

America's Enemies Over Time

Particularly, Iran had a good run between 2006-2012, when it was the top-ranked “enemy” in each year a poll was done.

At other times, North Korea (2005, 2016), Iraq (2001, 2005), Russia (2015), and China (2014) have all topped the list as well.

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Politics

The Start of De-Dollarization: China’s Gradual Move Away from the USD

The de-dollarization of China’s trade settlements has begun. What patterns do we see in USD and RMB use within China and globally?

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An area chart illustrating the de-dollarization of China’s trade settlements.

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The following content is sponsored by The Hinrich Foundation

The Start of De-Dollarization: China’s Move Away from the USD

Since 2010, the majority of China’s cross-border payments, like those of many countries, have been settled in U.S. dollars (USD). As of the first quarter of 2023, that’s no longer the case.

This graphic from the Hinrich Foundation, the second in a three-part series covering the future of trade, provides visual context to the growing use of the Chinese renminbi (RMB) in payments both domestically and globally.  

The De-Dollarization of China’s Cross-Border Transactions

This analysis uses Bloomberg data on the share of China’s payments and receipts in RMB, USD, and other currencies from 2010 to 2024. 

In the first few months of 2010, settlements in local currency accounted for less than 1.0% of China’s cross-border payments, compared to approximately 83.0% in USD. 

China has since closed that gap. In March 2023, the share of the RMB in China’s settlements surpassed the USD for the first time.

DateRenminbiU.S. DollarOther
March 20100.3%84.3%15.4%
March 20114.8%81.3%13.9%
March 201211.5%77.1%11.5%
March 201318.1%72.7%9.2%
March 201426.6%64.8%8.6%
March 201529.0%61.9%9.0%
March 201623.6%66.7%9.7%
March 201717.6%72.5%9.9%
March 201823.2%67.4%9.4%
March 201926.2%65.1%8.7%
March 202039.3%54.4%6.3%
March 202141.7%52.6%5.6%
March 202242.1%53.3%4.7%
March 202348.4%46.7%4.9%
March 202452.9%42.8%4.3%

Source: Bloomberg (2024)

Since then, the de-dollarization in Chinese international settlements has continued.  

As of March 2024, over half (52.9%) of Chinese payments were settled in RMB while 42.8% were settled in USD. This is double the share from five years previous. According to Goldman Sachs, foreigners’ increased willingness to trade assets denominated in RMB significantly contributed to de-dollarization in favor of China’s currency. Also, early last year, Brazil and Argentina announced that they would begin allowing trade settlements in RMB. 

Most Popular Currencies in Foreign Exchange (FX) Transactions

Globally, analysis from the Bank for International Settlements reveals that, in 2022, the USD remained the most-used currency for FX settlements. The euro and the Japanese yen came in second and third, respectively.

Currency20132022Change (pp)
U.S. Dollar87.0%88.5%+1.5
Euro33.4%30.5%-2.9
Yen23.0%16.7%-6.3
Pound Sterling11.8%12.9%+1.1
Renminbi2.2%7.0%+4.8
Other42.6%44.4%+1.8
Total200.0%200.0%

Source: BIS Triennial Central Bank Survey (2022). Because two currencies are involved in each transaction, the sum of the percentage shares of individual currencies totals 200% instead of 100%.

The Chinese renminbi, though accounting for a relatively small share of FX transactions, gained the most ground over the last decade. Meanwhile, the euro and the yen saw decreases in use. 

The Future of De-Dollarization

If the RMB’s global rise continues, the stranglehold of the USD on international trade could diminish over time.  

The impacts of declining dollar dominance are complex and uncertain, but they could range from the underperformance of U.S. financial assets to diminished power of Western sanctions.

However, though the prevalence of RMB in international payments could rise, a complete de-dollarization of the world economy in the near- or medium-term is unlikely. China’s strict capital controls that limit the availability of RMB outside the country, and the nation’s sputtering economic growth, are key reasons contributing to this.

The third piece in this series will explore Russia’s shifting trading patterns following its invasion of Ukraine.

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Visit the Hinrich Foundation to learn more about the future of geopolitical trade

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