Survey shows US as Southeast Asia’s most preferred ally Loses its place to China

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If forced to choose a side, most Southeast Asians would align with China and the US. Not together, although some countries that feel threatened by Beijing’s South China Sea claims still prefer Washington. According to a regional survey.

This is the first time since 2020 that Beijing has overtaken Washington when the question was first raised in the annual survey. The US as the preferred choice dropped from 61.1% last year to 49.5%.

The survey was conducted by Singapore-based think tank ASEAN Studies Center ISEAS-Yusuf Ishaq Institute between January 3 and February 23 with 1,994 respondents from academia, business, government, civil society and the media.

Respondents were from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, with the largest number of participants from Singapore and Indonesia.

According to the survey, China has emerged as the most strategically relevant partner for ASEAN at over 50%, overtaking the US, while Japan continues to be the most trusted major power in the region.

China and ASEAN are each other’s largest trading partners For four consecutive years, the trade volume reached $911.7 billion in 2023.

However, half of respondents also expressed mistrust of China, with 45.5% saying they fear Beijing could use its economic and military power to threaten their country’s interests and sovereignty, the report said.

China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea is of top concern to the Philippines (90.2%) and Vietnam (72.5%), the region’s two frontline South China Sea claimant states.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told Bloomberg said last month that his government’s claims over parts of the South China Sea should not be seen as provoking China.

“This is not smacking the bear, as it were. We’re trying to do quite the opposite. We’re trying to keep the dialogue going, at every level,” he said.

Vietnam also asserts sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea, though Beijing has dismissed those claims.

The survey revealed that the US still has majority support among respondents in the Philippines (83.3%) and Vietnam (79%), who are inclined to ally with the US over China.

“While China has gained some ground in terms of favorable public perception in Southeast Asia, it is worth noting that some of its most intense regional disputes are also located in the region,” said Kendrick Chan of LSE IDEAS, a foreign policy think-tank at the London School of Economics and Tank of Political Science.

ASEAN must build its resilience and unity to withstand pressure from two major powers, the US and China, nearly half of survey respondents said.

Global macroeconomic uncertainty continues to be a concern for the region, with a majority of Southeast Asians (57.7%) fearing unemployment and an economic slowdown. China’s economic slowdown may have fueled those concerns, according to the survey.

Other concerns include the Israel-Hamas conflict in October 2023 and subsequent Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. Although geographically, it may be far away, the impact is felt through supply chain disruptions that can directly affect energy and food prices.

Choi Shing Kwok, director and CEO of ISEAS-Yusuf Ishak Institute, said, “This year’s survey results clearly reflect heightened regional concerns over economic issues and the risk of uncontrolled geopolitical rivalry that could adversely affect the region’s interests in the short to medium term.” a statement.

“At the same time, the results also tell us that the region is optimistic that major powers can cooperate on issues of mutual benefit and welcomes other major powers in the region to engage more closely with ASEAN.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Indonesian President-elect Prabowo Subianto for talks on Monday. Xinhua News Agency.

Xi said that China views its relations with Indonesia from a strategic and long-term perspective and is willing to deepen comprehensive strategic cooperation with Indonesia.

Beijing said on Monday Ministers of Laos, Vietnam and Timor-Leste He will visit China separately from April 2 to 5 at the invitation of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to try to promote cooperation.

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