It is no surprise that the latest State of South-east Asia Survey should have revealed that heightened military tensions have emerged as a top-three concern for the region, tied at third place with widening socio-economic gaps and income disparity. With tensions still boiling over Taiwan, and the unease that persists around the South China Sea and the Sino-Indian border, this was to be expected. The survey of 1,308 South-east Asians by the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute shows that China remains the undisputed economic power for South-east Asia, as well as the most influential political and strategic entity, outpacing the United States by significant, albeit reduced margins – its ratings declined from 76.7 per cent in 2022 to 59.9 per cent in 2023. At the same time, the ISEAS survey highlighted misgivings about China, with two-thirds of respondents expressing concern about its influence.
This both contrasts with and validates another survey, published by Sydney’s Lowy Institute. Called Asia Power Index, it has the US remaining in top spot, with China’s comprehensive power perceived as declining because of tough anti-Covid-19 measures that curtailed its connectivity with the world. That said, Lowy’s index suggests that China narrowly reclaimed pole position for Diplomatic Influence from the United States over the course of 2022.