Asia Power Index 2020: China catching up as most powerful country

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China is slowly emerging as the most powerful country influencing the Asia-Pacific and closing to overtake the United States of America, shows Sydney-based Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index for 2020.

The Lowy’s Asian Power and Diplomacy Program’s (LAPWP) Director Herve Lemahieu cited America’s poor response to the pandemic, multiple trade disputes and President Donald Trump’s moves to withdraw from multilateral deals and agencies as the reason for the US losing influence in the Asia Pacific, reports Bloomberg.

Stating that ‘the pandemic was a game-changer’, Lemahieu said that COVID-19 contributed to a double whammy of problems for the US while adding “it will take many more years to recover from the economic fallout of the pandemic”.

LAPWP director even opined that the US economy may take until 2024 to recover to pre-pandemic levels. However, China’s economy rebounded from the virus and is the only large economy forecast to recover in 2020, which might work in favour of that country in the next decade.

According to the study, the US tops the most powerful country influencing the Asia-Pacific, while China stayed firmly in second place for the third year. Japan remained to be in the third spot, while India managed to secure the fourth position on the list.

Lemahieu even opined that the US presidential elections and Donald Trump’s re-election may not change the scenario. “I think it’s more likely that China will eventually level with the United States and may, toward the end of this decade, even surpass the United States. But not meaningfully enough to pull ahead by substantial margins,” Bloomberg quoted Lemahieu as saying.

Adding more, he said, “Asia will learn to cope without the United States if Trump wins a second term. With (Joe) Biden, I think Asia will be far more willing to do business with the United States.”

India’s position

According to Lowy’s estimates, India lost economic growth potential in the pandemic and is slowly ceding strategic ground to Beijing. “India will reach 40 percent of China’s economic output by 2030, compared with the 50 percent estimate last year,” the study predicted.

“It’s certainly delayed India’s arrival as the great power in the region. And it also means that India will be quite distracted by the development challenges and by the new poverty rate, with more newly impoverished people in South Asia,” Lemahieu said.

The study stated that Asia’s economy is now facing a perfect storm of public health, economic and strategic challenges due to COVID-19. Earlier, it was predicted that Asia’seconomy may become larger than the rest of the world economy combined in 2020.

Japan as a ‘smart power’

The Lowy report described Japan as a ‘smart power’ for using limited resources to wield broad influence in the region. Japan overtook South Korea due to its defence diplomacy, which spans a country’s defence dialogues to joint military exercises and procurement of arms.

Meanwhile, Russia, Australia, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia round out the top 10. Among the new entrant, Taiwan gained relative power this year alongside Australia and Vietnam. The reports even stated that Russia and Malaysia posted the biggest losses on the index, apart from the US.

Lowy’s Asian Power and Diplomacy Program prepared the report after measuring power using 128 indicators including economic relations, internal stability, information flows, defence spending and projected future resources.

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