Is China challenging the US over its global leadership?

A trio of seasoned Chinese observers give their opinions on the relative status of the United States and China as the prime global leader

While a recent Gallup poll showed global support for China’s leadership was higher than that of the United States in 2017, a Chinese scholar sparked controversy by declaring China has surpassed the US in all major aspects. Three experts share their views on the issues.


Important to view poll result objectively

The Gallup survey result reflects China’s development as well as the US’s waning reputation. But that does not necessarily mean China has surpassed the US in real power.


China has gained in national strength and has been playing a greater global leadership role over the past five years, promoting globalization and free trade. But it should not be ignored that the support for China’s leadership in the survey was only one percentage point more than that of the US, which dropped a record 18 percentage points. Besides, one survey result cannot be taken as gospel truth, although it was based on interviews with about 1,000 people aged 15 or above in 134 countries and regions.


Global confidence in US leadership may have declined, but there is still a gap between China and the US when it comes to comprehensive power. The US still has profound worldwide influence, and it still leads in fields such as hi-tech and trade.

However, China should see the survey result as a sign of gaining greater support for its international role. And it should strengthen multilateral co-operation in fields such as emission reduction and produce more public goods.

Yang Mian

Professor at the Institute of International Relations, Communication University of China



Co-operation will yield mutual benefit

The changes in US policies, particularly in finance and trade, have affected the world at different levels. The global financial crisis that spread from the US has had a huge negative impact on the US’s global leadership role. The support for the US dropped to a record low during the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, because he has failed to realise even part of his promise to make “America great again”, with the 69-hour government shutdown adding to the US administration’s woes.


Washington has resorted to protectionist policies to safeguard its domestic enterprises and reduce its global responsibilities. Moreover, Trump’s plan to build a wall along the Mexican border and order more military actions overseas have created tensions between the US and many other countries.


The lesson China must learn from the poll result is that co-operation is vital to mutual benefit. China’s proposals, including building a community of shared future for all humankind, the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, are win-win in nature.

Sino-US ties, however, should be stable in the long run. In the short term, bilateral conflicts will increase because Trump needs to show “achievements”, such as reducing the trade deficit with China and consolidating its world leadership role, to win the midterm elections.

Wang Honggang

Head of World Politics Institute, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations



Make more efforts for self-development

The survey result does not mean Beijing has replaced Washington as the global leader. Instead, it means Beijing’s influence in the world has expanded. An important reason for China’s rising influence is its promotion of globalisation, in sharp contrast to the US’s protectionist policies and withdrawal from multilateral mechanisms, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and the 2015 Paris climate accord.


China must deepen its co-operation with other countries to improve global governance, and make more efforts to transform its economic structure, upgrade its technologies and build a more educated workforce, as the more advanced an economy is the more it can contribute to the development of the world.


China should also explore better multilateral co-operation platforms and mechanisms that allow innovation to play a greater role. For example, it can use its high-speed railway technology to deepen co-operation with other countries.


Also, China must make more efforts to remove the ideological bias that many countries still have – of viewing the rise of a non-Western power with suspicion-by convincing the international community that it has no intention of seeking hegemony.

 Wang Fan

Vice-president of China Foreign Affairs University


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