7 Feb 2023

Institute finds US still far more influential than China in the region

4:27 pm on 7 February 2023
East-West Center President Suzanne Puanani Vares-Lum (L) speaks alongside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during the US-Pacific Island Country Summit at the State Department in Washington, DC, September 28, 2022. (Photo by Kevin Wolf / POOL / AFP)

Photo: AFP/Kevin Wolf

An Australian policy think tank has found that the hype around China's growing influence in the region is often overblown.

The Lowy Institute's latest report on power and influence in the Indo-Pacific has, in fact, revealed that the United States is again the most influential nation in the Indo-Pacific.

China placed second overall and the country only outranked the US in two of eight thematic measures.

There has been much debate recently about Beijing's influence in the Pacific, especially after China and Solomon Islands signed a security pact last year.

Last month Washington re-opened the US Embassy in Honiara.

As well as the security pact, the Beijing government has funded infrastructure for this year's Pacific Games which take place at the end of the year.

The Institute's Asia Power Index is a digital analytical tool that ranks 26 countries and territories according to the power they wield in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Index, which was first published in 2018, evaluates the balance of power in Asia through 133 indicators across eight thematic measures, including military capability, economic capability and diplomatic and cultural Influence.

In 2023, the top ten countries for overall power are, in order: the United States, China, Japan, India, Russia, Australia, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand.

Among the key findings in the latest Index:

  • China's self-imposed isolation exacted a heavy toll on its standing. As much of the world lifted or relaxed strict measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, China is only now emerging from tough zero-Covid policies that sharply curtailed its global and regional connectivity.
  • The United States remains on top of the Index due largely to China's setbacks.
  • Despite their economic recoveries, countries in the region are still suffering from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Most are less economically resilient than prior to the pandemic - having become more dependent on their leading trade partner, in most cases China.
  • Australia was the least affected middle power overall by the pandemic. Alone among regional advanced economies, and despite a drop in regional influence during nearly two years of strict border closures, the country's comprehensive power is now approximately back to its pre-pandemic level.