Now would seem to be the moment for China’s star to shine. It has gained control of the coronavirus pandemic rapidly and effectively, and it is the only member of the G20 whose economy is expected to grow this year.
At the same time, its major rival on the world stage allows the pandemic to run out of control while its people wallow in their greatest division since the Civil War.
Furthermore, the U.S. has distanced itself from the international community, seemingly uninterested in co-operating even with its allies. China, by comparison, has joined a global scheme for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine backed by the World Health Organization, an initiative the U.S. has shunned. Also unlike the U.S., China continues to support the Paris climate agreement.
And yet, like Rodney Dangerfield, China gets no respect. According to a recent Pew Research Centre survey, unfavourable views of the country have reach historic highs. The trends in the 14-country survey are exemplified by the graph to the right showing Canadian attitudes. In the last two decades, favourable views have plunged from 58 percent to 23 percent and unfavourable views risen from 27 percent to a whopping 73 percent.
The particularly sharp changes at the end of the graphs reflect the view that China has done a bad job dealing with COVID-19, surprising considering the way the country has bounced back from the initial outbreak. Criticism over its handing of the pandemic is a major reason for the country’s fading image.
China has grown impressively in hard power, in military and economic muscle, yet its growth in soft power, in cultural and economic influence, sharply declines. The decline has been matched with a decline in respect for the country’s leader, Xi Jinping. A median of 78 percent of the countries surveyed say they have little or no confidence in him to do the right thing in world affairs.
If there is a saving grace for China, it’s that while majorities in all countries polled say China has handled the COVID-19 outbreak poorly, they agree it has not handled it as badly as the U.S. And in most countries, more people trust President Xi than President Trump. Both countries and both presidents are obviously badly in need of some good PR.