Survey Shows China Overtaking U.S. as Southeast Asia’s Premier Ally

U.S. loses its spot to China as Southeast Asia’s most favored ally, survey shows

A recent regional survey conducted by the ASEAN Studies Centre at ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute reveals shifting preferences among Southeast Asian nations regarding alignment with major powers. The survey, encompassing 1,994 respondents from academia, business, government, civil society, and media, indicates a significant inclination towards China over the United States.

Notably, this marks the first time since 2020 that China has surpassed the U.S. in regional preference, with over 50% of respondents opting for Beijing. However, despite this trend, countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, feeling threatened by Beijing’s South China Sea claims, still favor Washington.

China’s emergence as the most strategically relevant partner for ASEAN underscores its growing influence in the region, surpassing the United States. This shift coincides with China’s continuous position as ASEAN’s largest trading partner, with trade volume reaching $911.7 billion in 2023.

Survey Shows China Overtaking U.S. as Southeast Asia's Premier Ally
Survey Shows China Overtaking U.S. as Southeast Asia’s Premier Ally (Credits: Aspi The Strategist)

Nonetheless, the survey highlights significant apprehension towards China, with half of the respondents expressing distrust due to concerns about economic and military coercion that could undermine their sovereignty and interests.

The South China Sea remains a focal point of regional tensions, particularly for countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, which face direct challenges from China’s assertive actions.

Despite these concerns, leaders like Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. stressed the importance of dialogue and diplomacy to manage disputes effectively, emphasizing that their territorial claims are not intended to provoke conflict. Meanwhile, Vietnam asserts its sovereignty over disputed islands in the South China Sea despite Beijing’s dismissal of these claims.

While China gains ground in Southeast Asia, the United States still maintains significant support in countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, where a majority of respondents express a preference for alignment with Washington.

Analysts suggest that as China expands its influence in the region, ASEAN should prioritize building resilience and unity to navigate pressures from both major powers effectively. Economic concerns, including fears of unemployment and recession, dominate regional anxieties, with China’s economic slowdown contributing to these worries.

Moreover, regional stability faces additional challenges from global events such as the Israel-Hamas conflict and subsequent Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, which disrupt supply chains and impact energy and food prices.

Despite these challenges, there remains a sense of hopefulness within the region for cooperation among major powers on issues of mutual benefit. Recent engagements between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indonesia’s president-elect Prabowo Subianto, as well as upcoming ministerial visits from Laos, Vietnam, and Timor-Leste to China, signal ongoing efforts to strengthen cooperation and dialogue amidst evolving geopolitical dynamics.

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