Over the past year, geopolitical arrangements have shifted in Asia, the world’s most populous region.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership aligned the economic interests of various countries, North Korea made overtures of peace and war, Xi Jinping cemented his presidential rule in China, and the United States has receded both economically and diplomatically.
Yet for all its backtracking, the US remains the dominant power in the region, according to a new analysis by the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank with a special research focus on Asia.
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The Lowy Institute ranked 25 countries across eight different measures — economic resources, military capability, resilience, future trends, diplomatic influence, economic relationships, defense networks, and cultural influence. The authors determined that the vast majority of countries are either middle or minor players in the region, with only four ranking as either a major player or superpower.
They argue that the region’s enormous size and growing economic clout mean that it will soon dominate global politics.
“Three of the world’s four largest economies are in Asia, and the fourth, the United States, is a Pacific power. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in Asia, compared with just over a tenth in the West,” the authors wrote in an introduction to the analysis.
“Asia’s economic transformation is reshaping the global distribution of power, changing the way the region — and indeed the world — works politically and strategically,” they continued. “Just as significantly, tensions between Asian powers will define war and peace in the 21st century.”
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The US received a power score of 85 out of 100, making it the top superpower with influence in Asia. It maintained its dominance because of its military networks and force, overwhelming cultural influence, and deep diplomatic and economic connections.
China, however, is quickly closing in on the US because of its rapidly growing economy and its ability to focus its investments in Asia, according to the authors, who gave the country a score of 75.5.
For example, the country’s Belt and Road Initiative involves investing hundreds of billions of dollars on infrastructure projects in the region, which is both improving its economic prospects and diplomatic relations.
China's Belt and Road isn't really about investment https://t.co/bbMTJb0dwB via @bopinionpic.twitter.com/4V468tKULU— Bloomberg (@business) May 6, 2018
“By 2030, China’s GDP is forecast to be almost twice the size as that of the United States at purchasing power parity,” the report says. “A large domestic market makes industrial- scale implementation of new technologies much easier to achieve.”
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China’s ascendance is being accelerated by the Trump administration’s diminishing involvement in the region.
"The competition between the US and China will be one of the most closely watched elements of the index in the coming years," Michael Fullilove, the Lowy Institute's executive director, said at a news conference Monday.
"Many of the strengths of the United States in Asia are in some ways being undermined by President Trump's actions," he added.
The next two strongest powers are Japan and India, which scored 42.1 and 41.5, respectively.
These two countries are on different trajectories in terms of their power, however, with India rising and Japan falling, the report argues.
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India’s economy is booming and its working-age population is soon to surpass China’s as the largest in the world. Japan, meanwhile, has a stagnating economy and its population is aging, the report argues.
The report also says that Australia, Singapore, and South Korea are overperformers, meaning they have more power than their size would predict, while Russia, North Korea, and Taiwan are “misfits,” meaning they perform well in some areas, but poorly in others. For example, Russia has a strong military presence, but weak economic relations.
Over the next few years, power dynamics could be significantly different, especially if China overcomes the US as the dominant force in the region, the report argues.
"If there's a general retrenchment or a loss of confidence in the US and its ability to underline security for its allies in the region, then you will see a weakening in that defense network score," Herve Lemahieu, the Lowy Institute project director, told CNN.
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"If you see that measure starting to dissolve in coming years ... you could see a radical redefinition in the balance of power in Asia,” he said.
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