China is rated the most influential economic player in South-east Asia, although it is the United States that has ruled the roost as the region's top investor for decades. Japan can claim neither of the two titles, but it is no lightweight. It is consistently perceived as the most trusted partner in the region. India, despite New Delhi's attempted pivot through its Act East policy, barely creates a ripple.
What's more, these perceptions, caught in a survey that is now into its third edition, appear well entrenched and have stayed intact despite the unusually eventful pandemic year. Experts struggle to reconcile the apparently contradictory findings revealed in The State Of South-east Asia, 2021, a survey report published by the Asean Studies Centre at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.