The patriotism row has taken its toll on the public's perception of Beijing, with Hong Kong people's confidence in the central government dropping sharply, a University of Hong Kong poll has revealed. Only 43 per cent of those surveyed last month said they trusted the central government, compared with 50 per cent recorded in the previous survey in December. 'The controversy on patriotism, ignited by authorities on the mainland, has taken its toll on the central government,' said Robert Chung Ting-yiu, director of the university's Public Opinion Programme. 'If our mainland authorities continue to equate patriotism with loving the Communist Party, it will have a very damaging effect on the image of the central government, an image which Beijing has tried so hard to instil in Hong Kong people after the handover.' Thirty-four per cent of the 1,045 people questioned said they trusted the Hong Kong government, a rise of 2 percentage points, and 57 per cent said they were confident in 'one country, two systems', up 1 percentage point from December. Political analyst Li Pang-kwong of Lingnan University said the drop in the trust in Beijing was 'significant' and agreed it was related to the patriotism controversy. 'If the current debate goes beyond the level of a war of words, it could ... undermine the confidence of investors,' Dr Li said.