Trust in China has rallied from last year's drop: Edelman

China-specific results from the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer reveal trust in government, businesses and NGOs at record highs since the survey began 16 years ago.

Trust has increased in all four institutions in Chinese society: NGOs (+17 points), business (+12 points), media (+9 points) and government (+4 points) since 2015 (see chart below), according to this year's Edelman Trust Barometer.

"This is a positive sign from the public that they are willing to let these institutions into their lives," said Bob Grove, CEO of Edelman North Asia.

The Chinese authorities have gained more trust this year compared to governments around the world, which are typically the most distrusted organisations in other countries, according to the report.

The reason, stated Grove, is the way China's government has explained how a consumption-led economy is leading to slower growth — and explained it well with recent communications.

"Corruption has also been tackled, while Chinese leaders like Xi Jinping have done well on the international stage, drinking beer with David Cameron and all," Grove said. 

In spite of its overall double-digit increase in trust, business remains the least trusted of the four institutions among both China’s informed public (80 percent of them distrust businesses) and the general population (70 percent). Generally, an eight to 11-point difference exists between the informed public and mass population in China.

Big Chinese conglomerates remain the most trusted type of business (79 percent), ahead of state-owned enterprises (73 percent) and family-owned businesses (59 percent).

The big trust deficit for family-owned businesses stems from a focus on wealth accumulation from often opaque operations, as opposed to more philanthropic businesses in the West, said Grove.

The findings show the largest performance gaps exist in ethical business practices pertaining to protecting or improving the environment. 

The priorities of China’s CEOs have been misplaced, according to Jeffrey Yu, Edelman China CEO, on short-term financial performance, but the most desired leadership qualities are being a visionary and being innovative.

In China, Jack Ma comes to mind for helping small merchants to enjoy the benefits of the internet, said Yu.

"The public expects Chinese CEOs to take a critical role in implementing those qualities," added Kevin Wang, managing director of Edelman China’s corporate practice.
"By demonstrating their own personal values and directly engaging with customers and employees, they have the ability to make themselves more relatable, which will ultimately help to bridge the trust gap."

"Chinese CEOs are still maturing," Yu elaborated. "Many are capable but too domineering. Every consumer wants to see the human face of the CEO. He or she shouldn’t be like a well-packaged product. To influence the Chinese public, you need to create societal impact in addition to profits."

"Notably, where markets are developing fast, people are more trusting because they think they have more opportunities; for markets that are developed people are more skeptical, " said Yu.

The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer consisted of 20-minute online interviews conducted on 13 October to 16 November 2015. The respondents included 1,150 members of the general population and 500 of the 'informed' public.

"Reputation is based on past actions, but trust is about future success, so those China-based brands that will succeed in a slowing economy are those that are building trust," concluded Grove. 

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