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by RAY FLEMING

THE Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project samples the opinions of nearly 25'000 people in 24 countries - that is an average of 1'000 respondents in each country, approximately the number most British polls question. The latest Pew survey, taken between mid-March and mid-April gives a hint of a slight recovery in America's international image. Whether this is due to the appearance of the charismatic Barack Obama on the presidential scene or to relief at the fact that George Bush is going cannot be determined - perhaps its a combination of both factors but for whatever reason it's a welcome indicator.

One remarkable fact to emerge from this survey is that it showed a high level of interest in the American election in most countries - as high as 83 per cent of respondents in Japan, for instance - suggesting that the US is still widely regarded as having leading superpower status despite its decline under President Bush. However this view was challenged by the response to a question which asked whether China would replace, or had already, replaced the US in that role. Among the countries in which more than 50 per cent of respondents predicted that it would do so were France, Germany, Australia, Spain - and China (Britain was 48 per cent). In Mexico, India, France, Jordan and Egypt at least 15 per cent thought that China has already passed America as the leading superpower. In Mexico, America's neighbour, 22 per cent held that opinion.