Southeast Asia Shifts Power Dynamics: China Edges Out US in Key Survey

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China Edging Past the U.S. in Regional Favor

A recent survey by the LA News Center reveals a paradigm shift in Southeast Asia’s alignment preferences. For the first time, a majority of respondents (50.1%) expressed a preference for China as a strategically relevant partner, narrowly surpassing the U.S. at 49.5%. This represents a significant drop from the U.S.’s 61.1% popularity rating in 2020.

Japan Maintains Trust, China Faces Skepticism

While China’s influence is growing, skepticism persists. Half (50%) of the respondents harbor distrust towards China, apprehensive that its economic and military power could be used to compromise their nation’s sovereignty. This concern is particularly acute in the Philippines (90.2%) and Vietnam (72.5%), both of which have territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea.

Philippines and Vietnam Remain Pro-U.S.

Despite China’s advances, The Philippines (83.3%) and Vietnam (79%) remain steadfast in their support for the U.S. as their preferred ally, even while acknowledging China’s economic significance. These countries see the U.S. as a protector against China’s territorial ambitions.

ASEAN Navigating Major Power Rivalry

The survey highlights Southeast Asia’s desire for stability and independence. Nearly half (45.3%) of the respondents believe ASEAN should prioritize resilience and unity to counter potential pressures from both the U.S. and China. This suggests a growing awareness among regional leaders of the need to balance relations with external powers.

Economic Concerns Loom Over Region

Global macroeconomic uncertainty weighs heavily on the region. A substantial majority (57.7%) express fear of unemployment and recession, largely attributed to China’s slowing economy. Conflicts like the Israel-Hamas clash and Houthi attacks also contribute to supply chain disruptions and price volatility.

China and ASEAN: Strategic Cooperation and Talks

Despite the territorial disputes, China and ASEAN have forged close economic ties. China has been ASEAN’s largest trading partner for four consecutive years. This strategic cooperation has led to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting with Indonesia’s president-elect Prabowo Subianto to discuss further collaboration. Additionally, ministers from Laos, Vietnam, and Timor-Leste plan to visit China in April to strengthen diplomatic bonds.

Balancing Interests

The LA News Center survey underscores the complex balancing act ASEAN nations must navigate in the face of shifting geopolitical dynamics. While acknowledging China’s growing influence, the region remains wary of its territorial ambitions. Southeast Asia seeks to maintain economic ties with Beijing while preserving its strategic independence and alignment with the U.S., signaling the need for both major powers to respect ASEAN’s sovereignty and interests.

Data sourced from: cnbc.com