Australia performed best in defense network measures, placing second due to its strong military partnership across the region, while its lowest ranking was for economic capability and future resources. The inclusion of Papua New Guinea in this year’s index helped increase Australia’s influence in the Pacific.
Australia looked slightly down in military capability and resilience, with the latter due to major ecological threats such as fires.
“It’s a good result for Australia, but it’s a bad result for Australia in terms of the rest of the region that seems most vulnerable and chaotic,” said Herve Lemahieu, director of the power and diplomacy program at the Lowy Institute.
While the US remains the most powerful country in the region, it had the largest relative power decline of any Indo-Pacific country in 2020 and its 10-point lead over China was halved two years ago. The US suffered the biggest reputation hit for its domestic and international COVID-19 treatment.
China’s power was unchanged despite diplomatic and reputational damage from the pandemic, with its growing economy holding its overall position. Beijing’s rapid response from COVID-19 is expected to widen the energy gap between it and the rest of the region over the next decade.
Mr Lemahieu said a “race to the end” was being driven by pandemic politics as much as the virus itself.
Although the energy gap between China and the US had narrowed, he said the pandemic had not been “cost-free” for China due to its initial close response, lack of transparency and the handling of COVID-19 policy.
Mr Lemahieu said the US could immediately arrest its decline by rejoining the “system based on multilateral rules” including the reunification of the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Agreement.
The US and China are classified as “superpowers” in the region, while Japan is now the only major power and is just a shy point to sit in a middle power. Its economy is expected to take most of the next decade to recover from the pandemic.
India lost its “major power” status and is now expected to take much longer to be China’s rival competitor as it struggles to contain the virus. India’s economy is set to be 13 per cent smaller by 2030 than anticipated before the pandemic, a $ 3 trillion blow to the economy.
Taiwan and Vietnam both jumped the ladder on the eve of their success in tackling the global pandemic.
Mr Lemahieu said some of the countries that performed best in accepting the virus South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore and Japan had actually recorded declines in overall strength.
“This means competent treatment of the pandemic is not necessarily the only condition for improving the regional situation of the countries,” he said.
He said Asia had done better than other regions in dealing with the worst consequences of the pandemic in terms of its spread, but because there was such a concentration of emerging economies, the region was hit disproportionately economically.
He said the emerging powers of India and Indonesia had lost more of the virus when compared to the trajectory in which they were before the COVID-19 strike.
“India still has the potential to become an Asian superpower but that potential has been pushed for several decades from now on it is a long game and not a linear growth. We need to understand India in its terms, strengths and its weak. “
Anthony is the foreign and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
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