【2023TCF】A Possible Path to Modernization and Trust: Keynote Speech by Einar Tangen
14 July , 2023
I did not come here today to dwell on what we all know that the world is fractured in terms of its individual and institutional relations, due to a growing trust deficit.
I came to suggest a way that China can bridge the ever-widening gap using comprehensive people to people exchanges that build trust at the grass roots.
The root of the rot is fear, and today people and countries are afraid.
We all know that without trust, you have nothing, with it, many things are possible. So, I would like to talk about what is possible, about hope, rather than inevitability.
Trust is a feeling, it is hard to create, but easy to destroy.
While there are those who trust blindly, but the basis of earned trust, at all levels, from individuals, to businesses and countries, is built on actions, honesty, and reliability.
Actions, because actions over time are what define us, words are just air.
Honesty, because I can’t trust you, if you can’t be truthful.
Reliability, because trust is based on believing the other will do what they said.
Mutual trust is essential to personal, business, and international relations. If I don’t trust you, you cannot be my friend, or my spouse. If I can’t trust you, I can’t do business with you. If countries can’t trust each other, their agreements mean nothing.
Building trust is therefore the key to promoting high quality relationships. Something China has done internally since its founding and should now do externally with other cultures.
One mechanism for building trust is cultural exchange, but the exchange must be meaningful and deep. Learning the language is just the beginning, the history, philosophy, sub-cultures, political, legal, social systems, literature, art, and music, need to be understood, or you will know the words, but not the true meaning behind them. In addition, people must truly experience the people, by attending and understanding the important festivals, birthdays, regular meals, understand what concerns they have and how they view the world. Staying in someone’s home and getting a sense of rhythm of life. The knowledge and experience must be immersive, or they won’t know, or be able to explain the people they have met. But, when both sides have a complete understanding and experience of each other, it will build trust, because the things we know and can rely on we trust, the things we don’t, by definition, we cannot trust.
Part of that trust process, from the Chinese side, is the magic of having ordinary Chinese people communicate their trust in their government directly to other ordinary people. The experience of feeling you know someone will change minds and create trust where there was none. Trust builds trust and having a billion ambassadors is one way of overcoming the comments of hostile media and their governments.
The China story is that trust has been created by actions, not words. For 45 years the Chinese government's efforts to improve people's lives have created trust. The people's trust is based on their experience, the governments' ability to deliver on what it says, it has created a bond of trust based on experience and reliability.
According to Edelman's annual Trust Survey, 89% of Chinese citizens trust their government, the highest percentage of all countries surveyed. That is not to say that people don’t have doubts about policies or complaints, but deep down they feel the government is working for them, not against them.
So, as economic optimism flags around the world, with countries at all-time lows, in terms of the number of people who think their families will be better off in five years, the Chinese people remain the most optimistic about their personal and country's future, despite daily aggressive verbal criticisms and actions against China.
According to the Ipsos Global Happiness 2023 report, China has the highest level of happiness, at 91% of any populous nation. China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that people's sense of happiness is like a mirror, telling us the values that drive the nation is the competence of its government.
Edelman's annual trust surveys, in recent years, have shown a wide gap between the respective trust levels of China and the United States, with only 42 percent of US respondents saying that they trust their nation's government. A level of distrust in government, driven by mismanagement of the economy and society over the past four and a half decades, and the gap it has created between haves and have-nots. It has been a time where the middle class shrunk from 62% to 50%. Where the three richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the nation. In China, the opposite has occurred.
Faced with a world where expectations and trust are deteriorating, it transitions from a post WWII world war order, run by wealthy but economically under-performing colonial powers, whose wealth was built on the subjugation and theft of other nations. The question is how China can respond effectively.
The less effective way is to allow other countries to control the narrative and actions, by responding to their juvenile criticisms and provocative actions. The more effective way is for China to follow its own path and lead by example, where others offer only broken promises and hypocrisy.
China's path to success has been through development. Internally, China defeated the colonial powers that subjected it to a hundred years of humiliation, raised 600 million people from subsistence to the middle class, eradicated extreme poverty, increased life expectancy to one year beyond the U.S., and took literacy from less than 25% in 1949, to over 96% today. Compare those figures to the 79% literacy the U.S. has today. Externally, China has been active in the BRI, SCO, BRICS, RCEP, AIIB, along with a host of regional development projects along with trade. Today, China is the primary trade partner for over 120 countries, compared to a fraction of that for the U.S.
Along the way China has developed a Westphalian set of initiatives that could serve as a global structure for the developing multilateral world. These initiatives, the Belt and Road, Development, Security and Civilization Initiatives are the pillars of a peaceful, sustainable political and economic approach that values sovereignty, security, development, sustainability, and respect.
In terms of President Xi Jinping's Civilization Initiative, at its core is respect for the civilizations within each country. While some have criticized it, as institutionalizing existing regimes, they fail to understand that every country is a complex mosaic of political, economic, legal, social, cultural, linguistic, and historical forces and must be respected as such, rather than dictated to.
By deepening its people to people understanding and experience, at the grass roots level, China can turn the tide on those who sow suspicion, fear, and hatred, by using the honesty of its people, to communicate, person to person, their incredible story, and the trust they feel.
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