U.S. loses its spot to China as Southeast Asia’s most favored ally, survey finds

Female travelers view travel information via mobile apps while visiting Wat Pho, Bangkok, Thailand.

Nitat Termmee | Instant | Getty Images

A majority of Southeast Asians would align with China and not the United States if forced to choose sides, although some countries that feel threatened by Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea prefer always Washington, according to a regional survey.

It’s the first time Beijing has overtaken Washington since 2020, when the annual survey first asked the question. The United States as the preferred choice fell to 49.5% from 61.1% last year.

The survey was conducted by the ASEAN Studies Center think tank at the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute between January 3 and February 23, among 1,994 people from academia, business, government, civil society and the media.

Respondents came from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, with the largest number of participants coming from Singapore and Indonesia.

China, with more than 50%, has become the most relevant strategic partner for ASEAN, ahead of the United States, while Japan continues to be the most reliable great power in the region, survey reveals .

China and ASEAN have been each other’s largest trading partners for four consecutive years, with trade volume reaching $911.7 billion in 2023.

However, half of those surveyed also expressed distrust of China, with 45.5% saying they feared that Beijing could use its economic and military might to threaten their country’s interests and sovereignty, the report said.

China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea is the main concern of the Philippines (90.2%) and Vietnam (72.5%), the two frontline claimant states in the South China Sea region.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told Bloomberg last month that his government’s claims to parts of the South China Sea should not be seen as a provocation to China.

“It’s not about poking the bear so to speak. We’re trying to do just the opposite. We’re trying to keep things at a manageable level, to continue the dialogue, whatever it may be, at all levels “, did he declare.

Vietnam has also asserted sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea, although Beijing has dismissed these claims.

The survey found that the United States still holds majority support among respondents in the Philippines (83.3%) and Vietnam (79%), who are inclined to align with the United States rather than China.

“Although China has gained ground in Southeast Asia in terms of favorable public perception, it is worth noting that some of its most acute territorial conflicts are also in the region,” said Kenddrick Chan of LSE IDEAS, the foreign policy think tank. tank from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

ASEAN should strengthen its resilience and unity to resist pressure from the two major powers, the United States and China, nearly half of those surveyed said.

Global macroeconomic uncertainty continues to worry the region, with the majority of Southeast Asians (57.7%) fearing unemployment and an economic recession. China’s economic slowdown could be behind these concerns, according to the survey.

Other concerns include the Israel-Hamas conflict in October 2023 and subsequent Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. Although geographically these impacts may occur over great distances, their impacts are felt through supply chain disruptions which can directly impact energy and food prices.

“This year’s survey results clearly reflect heightened regional concerns over economic issues and the risk of unbridled geopolitical rivalry that could harm the region’s interests in the short to medium term,” said Choi Shing Kwok, director and CEO of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. A declaration.

“At the same time, the results also tell us that the region remains hopeful that major powers can cooperate on issues of mutual concern and welcomes other major powers in the region to engage more closely with ASEAN .”

Chinese President Xi Jinping met Indonesian President-elect Prabowo Subianto for talks on Monday, according to Xinhua news agency.

Xi said China views its relations with Indonesia from a strategic and long-term perspective and is willing to deepen comprehensive strategic cooperation with Indonesia.

Beijing announced on Monday that ministers from Laos, Vietnam and Timor-Leste would separately visit China from April 2 to 5 at the invitation of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, aiming to strengthen cooperation.


Back to top button