China’s power in Asia diminished by Covid-zero, study shows

China’s rankings on cultural influence and economic capability fell the most in the 2022 index. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING – China’s standing in the Asia-Pacific has been damaged by its decision to stick with Covid-zero for most of 2022, leaving the United States to cement its position as the most influential power in the region, according to an Australian research group.

The Sydney-based Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index for 2023 shows that China registered the greatest decline out of the 26 nations and territories in the report, while strong economic links and defence ties solidified the US as the leading power in the Asia-Pacific.

The index measures power based on 133 indicators across eight core themes, assessing how much sway is held diplomatically, economically and militarily. Overall, the US was placed first, followed by China, Japan, India and Russia. 

Ms Susannah Patton, project lead for the Asia Power Index at Lowy, said China’s score dipped across almost every indicator, as the country’s connections with the rest of Asia declined “sharply” during Covid-zero. 

“We’ve heard about the economic impact of China’s border closures, but this really shows us for the first time, I think, the strategic impact of the border closures,” she said.

China’s rankings on cultural influence and economic capability fell the most, due to Beijing shutting off its citizens and businesses from the world for much of the year. One area where it did see improvement was in its military capability, closing the gap with the US from 27 points in 2018, to 23 points in 2022. The report notes its extensive military drills around Taiwan.

Ms Patton said almost all countries saw a dip in their rankings in 2022, driven partly by the aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic, with only Australia and Indonesia bucking the trend in the top 10 powers in the Asia-Pacific.

While the US’ ranking declined slightly overall, Ms Patton said it kept its top position thanks to the Biden administration’s diplomatic posture and the relatively strong American economy.

On the outlook for the year ahead, Ms Patton said China’s rapid reopening and diplomatic outreach to countries such as Australia could shape the next set of rankings, while the US will need to work to solidify its alliances with the Philippines and South Korea.

“China is going to be a much more formidable competitor to the United States over the next year,” she added. BLOOMBERG

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