A recent Pew Research Center survey reveals that the United States’ image has recently deteriorated in countries that traditionally have a favorable view of Americans, while China’s image has substantially improved in these countries. The research center had already measured the damage that the erratic Trump administration is causing to American prestige in the rest of the world, but the news now is that the Chinese are occupying the space that was opened by the American president’s extravagance and are now being seen as global leaders.
Since last year, out of 36 countries researched, the number of those that had a better opinion of the Unites States relative to China fell from 25 to 12. The average score advantage that the United States has in relation to China today is 2 percent, down from a 12 percent peak.
The survey shows that China maintains a good image in Latin America and in the Middle East, regions where anti-American sentiment is common, while the United States does well in Europe and in the Asia-Pacific region. However, countries that almost always align with the Americans, such as Australia, the Netherlands and Canada, now have a more favorable view of China than of the United States. And in countries where American prestige used to be much superior to China’s — such as Brazil, Britain, Germany and France — Pew reported a tie.
One of the most significant aspects of the deterioration of the United States’ image is the perception that the country today, led by Donald Trump, has not been capable of being the great global leader it has always been since World War II at least. Countries like Germany and Chile, for instance, now have more trust in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s leadership than in Trump’s.
No wonder. While Trump vociferates against international agreements, defends commercial protectionism, and throws the world into an era of uncertainty because of his rashness, Xi frequently advocates in favor of globalization and commercial liberalization. Obviously the Chinese president has not converted himself to liberalism and he only preaches this part of the capitalist creed according to his country’s needs. However, Xi’s willingness, when compared to the moral and political collapse of the Trump administration, has been enough to make him look like a champion of liberalism.
This is the background of the Chinese claim to the status of superpower, which after the end of the Cold War and the end of the Soviet Union was given only to the United States. This ambition became clear when Xi said in the recent Congress of the Chinese Communist Party that China is entering a “new era” and becoming a “powerful force,” a “model” of economic and political development for the rest of the world. In the words of its confident leader, the country wishes to “move to the center of the stage and make big contributions for humanity.” Xi even said that he is inaugurating the era of the “Chinese dream” — an obvious reference to the “American dream,” which is the essence of the ideals that the United States created for itself and spread to the rest of the world.
It is obvious that, despite the Chinese leader’s grandiloquence, China’s pretentions gain a veneer of reality because of the weakening of global American leadership that has resulted from the disaster called Trump, not because of the undeniable Chinese development. It could be said, then, that this is a momentary situation — it will last exactly until the United States recovers after Trump leaves office.
Until then, however, the United States will have to live with its growing discredit, not just in relation to China but, believe it or not, in relation to Russia. The Pew survey shows that the positive image of the United States compared to Russia fell by 20 percent. When you lose ground even to a corrupt autocracy like Russia, the damage caused by Trump becomes obvious.