Majority of Southeast Asians prefer China to US, survey finds

Majority of Southeast Asians prefer China to US, survey finds

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More than half of Southeast Asians would now prefer to align with China rather than the United States if ASEAN was forced to choose between rival superpowers, according to a regional survey by a think tank based in Singapore, reflecting Beijing’s growing influence in the region. .

According to the State of Southeast Asia Survey 2024 compiled by the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, 50.5% of respondents opted for China and 49.5% would prefer the United States if the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had to choose sides – this is the first time that Beijing has won. past Washington since the annual survey began asking the question in 2020.

Last year’s survey showed 38.9 percent preferred China and 61.1 percent chose the United States.

The think tank’s flagship survey interviews people from the private and public sectors, as well as academics and researchers across Southeast Asia, to outline the prevailing attitudes among those in a position to inform or influence policies on regional issues.

“It seems like this is the start of a trend.” . . this is the first time that China [edged past the US]” said Danny Quah, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. “But if we look at the underlying data, it’s actually more of a jagged trend. saw only a trend.”

Among the 10 ASEAN countries, possible alignment with China was most evident among respondents in Malaysia, at 75.1 percent, followed by Indonesia and Laos at 73.2 percent and 70. 6 percent. They have all benefited significantly from China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative and strong trade relations.

China has been Malaysia’s largest trading partner for over a decade and has invested billions of dollars in several sectors. Last year, the Malaysian government announced that Chinese automaker Geely, which owns a 49.9 percent stake in its local partner Proton, would invest around $10 billion in the Malaysian auto manufacturing hub located in State of Perak, in the northwest of the country.

Reflecting Indonesia’s strong economic ties, President-elect and Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on April 1 in his first overseas visit after winning the election. Last year, Southeast Asia’s largest economy inaugurated the region’s first high-speed railway, built jointly with China.

At the same time, Chinese state-owned companies are intensifying their involvement in Laos’ electricity infrastructure, of which Beijing is the main investor.

This article is from Nikkei Asia, a global publication offering a uniquely Asian perspective on politics, economics, business and international affairs. Our own correspondents and outside commentators from around the world share their views on Asia, while our Asia300 section provides in-depth coverage of 300 of the largest and fastest-growing listed companies in 11 economies outside Japan.

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Conversely, the United States has seen its popularity as a favored superpower decline.

Washington got strong support from the Philippines and Vietnam, at 83.3 percent and 79 percent, partly reflecting tensions both have with China over overlapping claims in the South China Sea.

However, a separate question regarding Washington’s Southeast Asia policy found that 38.2 percent of respondents believed the level of U.S. engagement in Southeast Asia had declined under President Joe Biden, topping 25 .2% who said it had increased.

Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the Indo-Pacific program at the German Marshall Fund, a U.S.-based think tank, said the decline in trust and the perception of less engagement from the United States was notable. , adding that their performance had been disappointing.

“There is a high level of expectations in Southeast Asia and a desire for U.S. engagement, especially different kinds of engagement than the U.S. actually offers,” Glaser said. As an example, she pointed to the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific economic framework, which does not contain the concept of market access, including the reduction or elimination of tariffs.

Chart showing by country, Malaysians and Indonesians opt for China

Yet the survey showed that Southeast Asians were unwilling to choose sides at all. Asked how ASEAN should respond to the intensifying US-China rivalry, only 8% said the bloc should choose between them because remaining neutral was impractical, while 46.8% said it should prioritize strengthening its resilience and unity to counter pressure from the United States. and China.

Other survey results indicate that 59.5 percent of respondents consider China the most influential economic power in Southeast Asia, far ahead of the United States with 14.3 percent. Meanwhile, 43.9 percent said China was the most influential political power in the region, compared to 25.8 percent who said the United States.

“[The report] “It’s an affirmation of the fact that people think China has become the most influential economic power,” said NUS’s Quah. “But at the same time . . . the levels of concern about the degree of influence are actually extremely high. The fact that China is recognized as the most influential does not mean that it is accepted, as if it s “It was the United States.”

The survey was conducted between January 3 and February 23, collecting responses from 1,994 people. Of those surveyed, 33.7 percent were from the private sector; 24.5 percent from government; 23.6 percent from academia, think tanks and research institutes; 12.7 percent non-governmental organizations and media; and the remaining 5.6 percent comes from regional or international organizations.

A version This article was first published by Nikkei Asia on April 2, 2024. ©2024 Nikkei Inc. All rights reserved.

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