Singapore stayed in third place while the United States returned to the top in the latest world competitiveness rankings by Swiss business school IMD.
Hong Kong was knocked off the No. 1 spot despite a strong performance in government and business efficiency, but maintained its lead over long-time rival Singapore, which held on to its ranking largely because of strong government efficiency. The US, which last topped the rankings in 2015, made its comeback on the strength of its economic performance and infrastructure.
Hong Kong and Singapore were the only Asian economies in the top 10 of the ranking, which covers 63 economies and is into its 30th edition. The United Arab Emirates (seventh) was the only other non-Western economy in the top 10, which was dominated by Western advanced economies, including the Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark.
Austria, which jumped from 25th to 18th, and China, from 18th to 13th, made the biggest leaps in the ranking, which is based on 258 indicators relating to economic performance.
"Economic growth, reduction of government debt and increased business productivity enabled Austria to move up," said Professor Arturo Bris, director of the IMD World Competitiveness Centre. "In the case of China, investment in physical and intangible infrastructure, as well as improvement on some institutional aspects such as the legal and regulatory framework, boosted its performance."
There was a slight change in the ranking's bottom positions.
While Mongolia (62nd) and Venezuela (63rd) remained in the last positions, Ukraine (59th) and Brazil (60th) improved.
"Brazil's improvement is the first since 2010 due to a positive shift in real GDP and employment," said the IMD report. "Ukraine increases because of its business efficiency. Its rise pushes Croatia down two places to 61st."
Prof Bris said this year's ranking reinforced a crucial trait of the competitiveness landscape: "Countries undertake different paths towards competitiveness transformation."
He added that "countries in the top of the ranking share an above-average performance across all competitiveness factors, but their competitiveness mix varies".
Asia's overall showing in the ranking was mixed. While Japan (25th), South Korea (27th), Malaysia (22nd) and India (44th) did better, Taiwan (17th), Thailand (30th) and Indonesia (43rd) dropped a few spots.
The Philippines (50th) fell nine positions. The reasons included a decline in tourism and employment, the worsening of public finances, and a surge in concerns about the education system.
Australia (19th) rose two spots, while New Zealand (23rd) fell seven. Economies "from the region (Asia) that experience declines this year, with the exception of Taiwan, all show signs of a need to improve their tangible and scientific infrastructure", the report said.
Noting that China has climbed steadily in the ranking over the past five years, rising 10 spots since 2014, the report said it has performed strongly in its domestic and jobs market.
But its improvements in infrastructure have been marred by limited government efficiency. "Stimulating domestic consumption, institutional reforms and resolving trade disputes are the key challenges for China," it added.