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New survey shows growing support for siding with either US or China in Southeast Asia

ANI | Updated: Apr 11, 2022 19:19 IST

Jakarta [Indonesia], April 11 (ANI): Southeast Asians think that "remaining neutral is impractical" and that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc must choose between the United States or China, according to a survey.
In a report published by The Asian Times in February, a growing number of scholars and opinion-makers think the region's traditional "hedging" between the two superpowers, the US and China need to be replaced by something new. The State of Southeast Asia report was published last week by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. The survey's questions also pertain to what ASEAN should do, not what individual states should do.
"The data illustrates an enormous swing over the last year in Cambodian perceptions of the US and China, with the Kingdom appearing to be something of an outlier when compared to other ASEAN states," said Bradley Murg, a distinguished senior research fellow at the Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace.
Every year, respondents are asked by the survey's authors: If ASEAN was forced to align itself with one of the two strategic rivals, the US or China, which should it choose?
"Hedging is a luxury middle powers cannot afford for long, especially when the stakes are high, superpowers are pushy and the rivalry is intensifying," said Rahul Mishra, a senior lecturer at the University of Malaya's Asia-Europe Institute, The Asian Times reported.
In last year's survey, only 46.2% of Cambodian respondents said China - and the remainder said the US. According to this year's survey, some 81.5% of Cambodian respondents now think ASEAN should choose China over the US, only less than a percentage point fewer than Laos, who have long thought the same. In last year's survey, only 46.2% of Cambodian respondents said China - and the remainder said the US, explains The Asian Times.
However, when broken down by country, the findings are stark. The percentage of Burmese respondents who said ASEAN has to choose between one of the two superpowers increased from 8.3% in last year's survey to 30.6% in the recently-released study. There was also a noticeable downturn of support for China in Myanmar - down to 8% from 51.9% last year, which was likely due to the military coup - as well as from Singaporeans, Malaysians and Thais.

This may be expected due to the ongoing crisis started by last year's military coup.
"Practically speaking, for issues that are non-consequential, it is easy to stay neutral, but for key strategic issues, sometimes being neutral may not be an option, it may also be seen as a form of strategic weakness," said Joanne Lin, a lead researcher at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute's ASEAN Studies Centre and one of the survey's authors.
"Should US-China tensions increase, with a decoupling of the two superpowers," she added, "it will be even more challenging to stay neutral given that the world is interconnected and somehow ASEAN will end up having to choose a certain supply chain, a technology provider or a position in the South China Sea."

Today, more than two-thirds of Cambodians and Laos think ASEAN should side with China. Most Bruneian respondents also agreed with this. But more than two-thirds of Burmese, Filipinos and Singaporeans now say America. And it appears that they are now gravitating further toward the US.
Almost half of the respondents to the latest State of Southeast Asia survey still thought ASEAN should "enhance its resilience and unity to fend off pressure from the two major powers."
But there was an increase in the number of people who thought the best option was to seek out "third parties" to broaden its strategic space and options.
Some 70.1% of respondents thought ASEAN to be "slow and ineffective, and thus cannot cope with fluid political and economic developments", reported The Asian Times.
Xi Jinping, in a virtual summit with Biden before stressed that a sound and steady China-US relationship is required for advancing the two countries' respective development and also safeguarding a peaceful and stable international environment. (ANI)