China beats US as top economic power in Southeast Asia: Survey
China beats US as top economic power in Southeast Asia: Survey

China beats US as top economic power in Southeast Asia: Survey

China has been reported to be the most influential economic power in Southeast Asia, according to a recent poll that came with caution about Beijing’s territorial positions over the South China Sea.

A survey of 1,677 Southeast Asians by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute found that 76.7% consider China to be the most influential economic power in the region, followed by the United States with a very distant 9.8%, Bloomberg reported.

Washington’s second-place finish comes after the Biden administration finally unveiled its strategy for engaging with Asia last week.

Earlier in December, a study by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute showed that China’s influence in Asia waned in another year of the pandemic as the country turned more inward, while the United States expanded its power in the region through better diplomacy.

However, half of them with a positive view of China felt that perception could be negatively impacted if Beijing continues to expand its influence in their country.

China’s “strong arm tactics” in the South China Sea are a major concern among respondents with 46.2% saying it could ruin their perception of China. It was the biggest concern for all the demanding nations: 56.9% in Malaysia, 71.2% in the Philippines and 55.3% in Vietnam.

Of the 58.1% of respondents who show distrust of China, almost half of them fear that Beijing may use economic and military force to threaten their country’s sovereignty. More than three in four believe that China should respect national sovereignty “and not restrict” the foreign policy choices of Southeast Asian countries.

The inquiry on Wednesday comes as foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet in Cambodia amid concerns over whether the region is capable of rallying on pressing issues ranging from disputes over the South China Sea to civil disputes in Myanmar.

China’s membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, meanwhile, is seen as creating both opportunities and challenges for the region, according to the ISEAS study.

If China were able to join, 31% thought it would reduce economic tensions in the region and help resolve the US-China trade war, while just under 30% disagree.

Nearly 60% of respondents welcome the strengthening of Quad, a regional partnership consisting of the US, India, Japan and Australia, while 36.4% feel that the US security partnership with the UK and Australia – known as Aukus – will help to balance China’s growing military power.

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