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How others see China

Soldiers of People's Liberation Army (PLA) are seen before a giant screen as Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at the military parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China

Deng Xiaoping famously argued that China would be wise to hide its strength and bide its time. Xi Jinping, China's current leader, has made clear that he thinks the days of hiding and biding are over.

President Xi has called for "a new era" for China that moves his country "closer to center stage" in world affairs. He has offered his country as "a new option for other countries," an alternative to Western-style democracy and its often erratic approach to problem-solving.

A new survey from the Pew Research Center offers some interesting responses to this newest phase of China's rise. The report is based on interviews conducted in nine European countries plus the US, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and Australia.

What do people in these 14 countries think about this show of strength and flash of ambition? There are four big takeaways.

"Negative views of China [are] on the rise." Across the 14 countries, China's median unfavorability rating stood at 73 percent. In the US, opposition to China's authoritarianism is a subject of rare agreement among Republicans and Democrats. In Asia, China's more assertive role provokes anxiety. Even in Europe, where China provokes less fear, mistrust is on the rise. A crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong and the internment of as many as one million Uighur Muslims in "education camps" has drawn fierce criticism from European leaders. Earlier this year, the European Commission accused China of waging an ugly disinformation campaigns at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak and labelled China a "systemic rival."

"Most think China has not handled [the] COVID-19 outbreak well." Speaking of the novel coronavirus, many blame Beijing for hiding the threat it posed before it spread beyond China's borders and for silencing Chinese doctors who tried to expose it.

In 12 of the 14 countries surveyed, a higher percentage thought the US had done a worse job than China in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, but the origins of the virus continue to raise questions about how many lives might have been saved around the world if China had been open about the risks in late 2019.

There is "little confidence in President Xi to do the right thing in world affairs." According to the report, a median of 78 percent, and at least seven in ten respondents in every country surveyed, said they have little or no confidence that he will "do the right thing."

It's little surprise that these numbers have risen sharply over the past year when, beyond China's COVID cover-up and its repression in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, we add its aggressive territorial claims in the South China Sea, its border fights with India, new attention paid to the scale and sophistication of its domestic surveillance network, stories about the poorly made products it shipped to Europe as part of coronavirus aid packages, and its belligerent response to criticism.

"In Europe, more see China as [the] world's top economic power than [the] U.S." There is also a broad recognition of China's growing strength and importance. In every country except the US, Japan and South Korea, more survey respondents pointed to China as the world's lead economic powerhouse. In part, this reflects the reality that China may be the only major economy to expand in 2020. Maybe it's also an expectation that China will continue to grow faster in the future than its western rivals.

The bottom line: As China continues to offer itself as an alternative to Western international leadership and a solution to more of the world's problems, it can expect both to earn more respect and to provoke more resistance.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.


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