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China-US relations

Trust crisis in US institutions as Chinese confidence rises, Edelman global poll finds

But the rest of the world still wary about Beijing’s growing role in international governance

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 January, 2018, 10:05pm
UPDATED : Monday, 22 January, 2018, 11:35pm

The Chinese public have the greatest confidence in their institutions while domestic trust in authorities in the United States crashed by a record margin during US President Donald Trump’s first year in office, according to a major survey released on the eve of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The sharp contrast revealed by the annual Edelman Trust Barometer followed a Gallup poll last week showing more people around the world considered China, rather than the US, a global leader, despite high worldwide disapproval of the Chinese leadership.

The results dovetail with analysts’ assessments that while Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive has reinforced one-party rule and gained popular support at home, the world still has mixed views about China’s growing role in global governance amid Washington’s declining leadership.

New Silk Road: Why China should be wary of overconfidence

The Edelman survey, based on 33,000 respondents, found that overall trust in the four institutions it measures – the government, media, business and non-governmental organisations – plunged more steeply in the US than in any of the 27 other countries surveyed.

Faith in the Chinese government jumped 8 points to 84 per cent, while in the US it fell 14 points to 33 per cent under Trump’s isolationist and “America first” agenda.

“The US is enduring an unprecedented crisis of trust,” said Richard Edelman, head of the communications marketing firm that commissioned the research.

The results come as world political and business leaders gather in the Swiss Alps resort of Davos for the four-day World Economic Forum starting on Tuesday

Trump is expected to attend and defend his protectionist policies in a speech on the final day.

Liu He, Xi’s top financial and economic adviser, will represent China at the summit, one year after Xi defended globalisation in a keynote speech amid anti-trade sentiment in the US and Europe and growing doubts over the Washington-led liberal international order.

Xi’s strong speech months before his confirmation as China’s most powerful leader in decades was widely seen as having spelt out Beijing’s ambition for a global leadership role.

But, even as global confidence in the US hit a decade-plus low, international views towards China’s rising power are still divided. According to the Gallup phone poll of more than 1,000 people in 134 countries, 30 per cent disapproved of the Chinese leadership.

“This year marks a significant change in our trends,” Gallup managing partner Jon Clifton wrote. This historic low of the approval of the US leadership “puts the US’ leadership approval rating on par with China’s and sets a new bar for disapproval”, he said.

Chinese nationalism is a double-edged sword for global ambitions

Wang Yiwei, director of Renmin University’s Institute of International Affairs, said the confidence among the Chinese respondents to the Edelman survey was partly due to Xi’s campaign to root out corruption, which has reinforced the legitimacy of the one-party rule and allowed Beijing to set its sights on a much bigger global role in shaping the US-led world order.

“China has the most stable politics among all the big powers, and no other country could have a ‘core leadership’ like Xi Jinping has in China,” Wang said. “China also has similar problems as the West, such as a widening wealth gap, but the government has a consensus when it is dealing with domestic and governance issues.”

But Wang said it was too early to jump to the conclusion that the US had failed.

“[The US] is still capable of taking the lead and its supremacy in the military and global finance remains unchallenged,” he said. “Many people in the US feel distrust towards their government so sometimes they have preconceived notions that their country is failing, which may not be true.”

Additional reporting by Reuters