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World The balance of power is shifting in Asia, and China is gaining on the US

00:35  23 october  2020
00:35  23 october  2020 Source:   businessinsider.com

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The U . S . wields more power in Asia -Pacific than any other country but China is gaining ground due to President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade policies Taiwan is the only country or territory that saw a significant downward shift in its overall score. Australia ranked second in the defense networks

a person wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a flag: President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, November 9, 2017. Reuters/Jonathan Ernst © Reuters/Jonathan Ernst President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, November 9, 2017. Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
  • The gap in Chinese and US national power has narrowed, driven by external factors and domestic political decisions, according to the latest Asia Power Index by Australia's Lowy Institute.
  • Neither is likely to dominate the region going forward, meaning the choices and interests of middle powers will be more consequential.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The gap between Chinese and US influence in Asia has narrowed, a reflection of an ongoing rebalance in the region and of political decisions in both countries.

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ASIA ’S BALANCE OF INFLUENCE is shifting on all fronts—economically, militarily, technologically, diplomatically, and politically. TWO RECENT TRENDS ARE REDEFINING the balance of power in Asia , shifting its fulcrum from security only to a subtle mixture of security and economics.

The US still tops this year's Asia Power Index, compiled by the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank. First released in 2018, the index now draws on three years of data based on military, economic, diplomatic, and resource indicators.

But US's standing has waned by almost all of those measures. Its 10-point lead over China in 2018 has been halved.

The spread of COVID-19 has caused tumult recently, but deterioration of the regional order, China's rise, and President Donald Trump's often alienating approach are trends visible in 2018 and that have "accelerated through the course of the three iterations," lead researcher Hervé Lemahieu told Insider in an interview.

While Asia rise as a center of global power will continue, the pandemic will affect its course, undercutting the economic transformation driving that shift, Lemahieu said.

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The pandemic has "highlighted the fact that whilst countries in the region are growing economically ... they still remain quite weak when it comes to some of these more basic development challenges, and that will impact their ability to project power externally," Lemahieu added.

Political rather than structural

a group of people wearing costumes: Trump greets a performer at the Forbidden City in Beijing, November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst © REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst Trump greets a performer at the Forbidden City in Beijing, November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Neither China's rise nor a US decline are inevitable, Lemahieu said, attributing waning US influence to "political choice more than structural decline."

"Where we've seen the US lose the most power in the region has been in terms of ... its ability to exercise regional leadership," Lemahieu added.

The index includes a "power gap" based on an assessment of a country's use of its resources and influence. The US's -2.4 score makes it an underperformer.

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Besides Samsung, those that have shown interest are Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., known as Foxconn, Wistron Corp. and Pegatron Corp. India has His government has already lowered taxes on companies to among the lowest in Asia , seeking to attract new investments in an economy headed

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Trump's unilateral approach to trade and hardline on defense burden-sharing has frustrated partners and allies. Some welcome a more assertive stance on China, but Trump's "us or them" approach doesn't work for many in the region.

"I do think the political choices made in the last four years have been detrimental to US standing in Asia, and it wouldn't be this bad without those choices," Lemahieu said, noting that because they're political rather than structural, these changes could be reversed.

But those decisions don't mean Beijing has been making friends.

China's neighbors, not all of them US allies, view Beijing with "wariness" and "consider China to be a more immediate threat," Lemahieu said. That raises the chance China could use force to secure concessions but also raises the costs of doing so.

Beijing is also focused on asserting power internally, limiting its projection outward. "It has to deal with a whole range of consequences of having an authoritarian, one-party state, and it's also a rapidly aging society," Lemahieu added.

China will likely draw even with the US in terms of power, but limits on its resources and influence are a handicap.

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China ’s top diplomat has urged neighboring states to guard against Washington’s geopolitical ambitions in Asia and called for regional Tensions between Beijing and Washington have been rising for months, with US naval patrols through the South China Sea continuing to strain bilateral relations.

In Southeast Asia , Chinese entrepreneurs are engineering a crop of web companies just as China projects growing military power in the South China Sea. Beijing started to embrace a triumphal mind-set, and pursued global leadership with new confidence on the back of the West’s perceived flaws.”

"I think this idea that somehow a unipolar US-led order becomes a unipolar China-led order is going to be very hard to accomplish for Beijing," Lemahieu said.

'The US falls short'

Prayut Chan-o-cha, Lee Hsien Loong posing for the camera: Trump with fellow national leaders at the 31st Association of South East Asian Nations Summit in Manila, November 13, 2017. JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images © JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images Trump with fellow national leaders at the 31st Association of South East Asian Nations Summit in Manila, November 13, 2017. JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Even as Trump's policies have frustrated others, US officials have emphasized the value of good relationships in countering China.

"America's network of allies and partners provides us an asymmetric advantage our adversaries cannot match," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in speech this week focused on those ties.

Those statements haven't been reassuring in the face of other US policies, or lack thereof. "I think we're concerned that the US doesn't have an endgame," Lemahieu said. "There's a so-called China strategy, but what is the objective?"

The US has embraced the Quadrilateral, a multilateral grouping with India, Japan, and Australia. While that's a good development, those countries still have very different approaches to China, Lemahieu said.

Leaders in China and the US have broached "decoupling," but that simply isn't feasible for most of the region.

"It's just an existential reality that we have to deal on some level with China economically, and I don't think the US fully understands that," Lemahieu added.

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Similarly, the US focus on military strength and presence isn't seen as a comprehensive alternative to a Chinese-led order. Countries in the region are working on multilateral projects, mainly trade-focused, but US engagement is wanting.

"As important as it is to balance China militarily, you also have to come up with a means of trying to balance China economically," Lemahieu said. "That's where the US falls short as an alternative."

For China and the world

Xi Jinping wearing a suit and tie: Chinese President Xi Jinping. Noel Celis - Pool/Getty Images © Noel Celis - Pool/Getty Images Chinese President Xi Jinping. Noel Celis - Pool/Getty Images

In the US, the direction of national leadership remains in doubt. Four more years of Trump would prompt a "profound reevaluation" in Australia, which has tolerated the instability he's created, Lemahieu said, and elsewhere.

Trump's ouster would still leave uncertainty about the trends that propelled him to office.

In China, Communist Party leader Xi Jinping is installed for life, but the potential for an alternative to emerge, albeit small, remains.

"I think there are alternative visions for China's rise within the Communist Party, and that would have a huge impact both on the nature of US-China competition but also maybe in the way that China is perceived in the region," Lemahieu said.

China doesn't necessarily need new leadership to change direction.

Xi has closed the scope of internal party debate, giving rise to bad policy, including poor handling of tensions with the US, according to Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at SOAS London University.

A lack of debate and its effect on what policymakers are told are obstacles to the "accurate and timely information" they "need to avoid making major policy mistakes," Tsang told The Financial Times. "This is not a good thing for China or for the world."

Read the original article on Business Insider

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