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Survey shows Southeast Asians favor China over U.S.


 , Updated 15:31, 04-Apr-2024
Screenshot from the report of State of Southeast Asia 2024 survey.
Screenshot from the report of State of Southeast Asia 2024 survey.

Screenshot from the report of State of Southeast Asia 2024 survey.

Most of the Southeast Asians prefer China over the U.S., according to the result of a regional survey released by a Singapore-based think tank on Tuesday.

According to the State of Southeast Asia 2024 survey, compiled by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS), 50.5 percent Southeast Asians respondents opted for China and 49.5 percent preferred the U.S. This is the first time China edged out the U.S. since the annual survey started in 2020, indicating a notable shift in sentiments among respondents from the region. In last year's survey, 38.9 percent of respondents picked China, while 61.1 percent chose the U.S. 

The 2024 survey was conducted online with a total of 1,994 Southeast Asians completing the survey. The respondents come from the academia, think tanks, research groups, private sectors, civil society, NGOs, the media, regional or international organizations, as well as the public sector. 

In the 2024 survey, China continues to be seen as the most influential economic (59.5 percent) and political-strategic (43.9 percent) power in the region, outpacing the U.S. by significant margins in both domains. Among the 11 dialogue partners of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China (8.98 out of 11.0) tops the charts in terms of strategic relevance to ASEAN, followed by the U.S. (8.79) and Japan (7.48). 

Assessing the future of China's relations with ASEAN, more than half of the respondents anticipated an improvement in the next three years.

The report also shows that confidence in the U.S. has waned, with nearly 60 percent of respondents concerned about its growing strategic and political influence in the region, up from over 40 percent in 2023.

The institute also organized a webinar on Tuesday to discuss the findings. Experts say the waning confidence in the U.S. could also be attributed partly to the U.S.'s decreased engagement in the region. The ISEAS survey found that more than one-third of respondents felt that the U.S. engagement has decreased or decreased significantly in 2024.

Currently he U.S. has a large military presence in the region, but experts say what Southeast Asians want is various engagements, such as market access. The 2024 survey found that positive sentiments of Southeast Asians about the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) proposed by the U.S. declined from 46.5 percent last year to 40.4 percent this year, while negative sentiments have also increased from 11.7 percent last year to 14.9 percent this year.

Danny Quah, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said that U.S. actions in recent years, especially its industrial policy, have shaken Southeast Asians' perceptions of American values and their rule of law, as they are worried that the U.S. industrial policies aim to strike down others rather than strengthen itself.

Moreover, Wu Xinbo, dean of the School of International Studies at Fudan University, said in the webinar that the performance of the U.S. in the Gaza conflict also affected its image in the Muslim countries in the southeastern region. "To some extent, damage to America's international reputation caused by the Gaza conflict is no less than the Iraq war," Wu said.

He said that China should continue to strengthen political trust with Southeast Asian countries by promoting mutually beneficial economic cooperation, but managing disputes in the South China Sea is also of great importance.

(Cover: A view of the Central Business District in Beijing, capital of China. /CFP)

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