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China’s Economic Impact on ASEAN Reaches New Heights

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China’s influence as the dominant economic power in the ASEAN region continues to grow, with recent surveys highlighting its significant impact across multiple countries. The ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute‘s “State of Southeast Asia 2024” report sheds light on the perceptions of nearly 2,000 respondents from the 10 ASEAN member states, illustrating China’s prominent role in the region’s economic landscape.

China: The Leading Economic Force in ASEAN

According to the report, China is viewed as the most influential economic power across all ASEAN nations. This sentiment is particularly strong in Laos and Thailand, where 78% and 71% of respondents, respectively, identified China as the primary economic influencer. These findings are consistent with China’s status as Laos’ largest foreign investor and top export market, underscoring the deep economic ties between the two countries.

In contrast, the Philippines displayed a unique perspective, with 30.7% of respondents recognizing China’s economic influence, closely followed by the United States at 27.9%. This indicates a more balanced view of economic power between the two giants compared to other ASEAN nations.

Japan and the European Union: Secondary Influences

Japan also maintains a notable presence in the ASEAN economic landscape, particularly in the Philippines, where 9% of respondents acknowledged its economic influence. This recognition coincides with the 50th anniversary of the ASEAN-Japan friendship, highlighting Japan’s longstanding role as a key dialogue partner in the region.

The European Union, while less influential than China or the US, received single-digit recognition for its economic impact, with the highest acknowledgment coming from Myanmar (6%), Cambodia (5%), and Laos (4%).

Growing Concerns Over China’s Influence

Despite China’s economic dominance, there are rising concerns about its influence. The report reveals high levels of apprehension in Vietnam and Myanmar (88%) and Thailand (80%), reflecting the complexity of China’s relationships within the region. This apprehension is juxtaposed against the backdrop of robust trade ties, indicating a nuanced view of economic dependency and geopolitical strategy.

In Thailand, for example, while 70.6% of respondents viewed China as the most influential economic power, a significant 80.3% expressed concern about this influence, compared to just 19.7% who approved. Similar sentiments were observed in Laos, with 72.7% expressing concern and 22.6% approval.

Shifting Allegiances: US vs. China

The survey highlighted a pivotal shift in ASEAN public opinion. For the first time in five years, a majority of respondents indicated a preference for China over the US when forced to choose between the two powers. This change marks a significant departure from previous years, where 61.1% of respondents favored the US over China’s 38.9%.

This shift can be attributed to Beijing’s extensive policies, investment projects, and economic cooperation agreements within the region, which have bolstered its influence and appeal. The report suggests that these large-scale initiatives are driving ASEAN countries to increasingly align with China.

Comparative Analyses: Global Perspectives

The 2022 China Index by Doublethink Lab, in collaboration with the “China in the World” network, ranked Thailand fourth among countries most influenced by China globally, following Pakistan, Cambodia, and Singapore. This index, based on expert surveys, further underscores China’s pervasive influence across various sectors in these countries.

Moreover, the “Indo-Pacific Power” report by the Lowy Institute indicates that since 2018, the US has been losing influence to China in critical areas such as economic relations, military networks, and diplomatic and cultural influence. By 2022, China’s lead had expanded, highlighting the growing gap in influence between the two superpowers in the Indo-Pacific region.

State of Southeast Asia 2024

The findings from the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute’s “State of Southeast Asia 2024” report and other related studies paint a clear picture of China’s rising economic influence in the ASEAN region. While this dominance brings about significant economic benefits, it also raises concerns about dependency and geopolitical stability. As ASEAN countries navigate these complexities, the balance of power between China and other global players like the US and Japan will continue to shape the region’s economic and political landscape.

Mr. Waseem Qadri also contribute to this article from Islamabad

Saeed Minhas
Saeed Minhas
Saeed Minhas is an accomplished journalist with extensive experience in the field. He has held prominent positions such as Editor at Daily Times and Daily Duniya. Currently, he serves as the Chief Editor (National) at The Think Tank Journal

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