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Coronavirus response sees Australia, Vietnam and Taiwan rise in Lowy Institute’s Asia Energy Index




Australia, Vietnam and Taiwan have seen their power in Asia increase in part due to their treatment of the coronavirus pandemic.

This is according to the Lowy Institute Asia Energy Index for 2020, which ranks the power of 26 nations in the region according to a range of measures from military capability and defense networks to diplomatic and cultural influence.

The index shows that the United States remains the most powerful country in Asia but its power continues to decline in the face of Chinese rise, as well as a loss of prestige from its chaotic response to the pandemic.

“Addressing the pandemic was a necessary condition, but not the only one, to improve a country’s regional position in Asia,” Aru Lemahieu, Asian director of energy and diplomacy at the Lowy Institute, told AVE.

Australia surpassed South Korea in the index this year, to rank as the sixth most powerful country in Asia. He followed the US, China, Japan, India and Russia.

The Military Honor Guard performs during National Day celebrations in Taipei.
The Taiwan Military Honor Guard performs during the National Day celebrations in the country.(AP: Chiang Ying-ying)

China growing, India slow

Taiwan won the most in terms of its international reputation, which Mr Lemahieu said was in contrast to “China’s most militant diplomatic stance this year towards boosting wolf fighter diplomacy”.

While Australia has seen its relations with China fall through 2020, it is not alone.

Beijing has found itself in diplomatic squabbles with India over its border with the Himalayas of countries, with the UK for banning Huawei from the British 5G network and with Canada for banning China from some of its citizens, to name just a few.

China has also clashed with Western powers over growing dissident repression in Hong Kong, the massive Uighur ban on Xinjiang, and Beijing’s ambitious territorial claims to the South China Sea.

Indian soldiers stand in a lineup after landing by a military transport plane.
Tensions between India and China are at their highest point in decades.(Reuters: Siddiqui danez)

While China’s power remained unchanged according to the Asia Energy Index, India lost its status as a “great power”.

The Lowy Institute said India’s position as a future competitor to China was “much less secure” because of the widespread economic and social damage caused by the pandemic.

The country has officially registered more than 7.4 million cases of coronavirus so far and at least 113,000 deaths.

A health worker takes a sample of a vendor's nasal swab during random testing for COVID-19 at a market in Gauhati, India.
A health worker takes a sample of a nasal swab from a vendor in Gauhati, India.(AP: Anupam Nath)

“The resources for India’s growth are certainly there, but the point we are making is that it will last much longer than many people realize.”

In contrast, China has seen its economy recover after the worst crisis there.

And in what the Lowy Institute judges the “new space race” for soft power in response to the challenge of climate change China has recently committed to carbon neutrality by 2060.

“China’s rapid recovery will further entrench the country’s economic centrality in its region, while the relative importance of the US economy in Asia is likely to decline,” Mr Lemahieu said.

American flags appear alongside Chinese flags on top of a trishaw in Beijing.
The reputation of the United States has been damaged by the treatment of the COVID-19 crisis.(AP: Andy Wong)

Australia’s strategic position is favorable, but the climate poses a threat

Asia’s economy was projected to be larger than the rest of the combined world by 2020, but the coronavirus has crashed.

“The long – term economic consequences for [Asia] has been pronounced, and this is a great surprise, “said Mr Lemahieu.

For example, Japan is expected to last until 2030 to fully recover from the economic consequences of the pandemic.

When unveiling the government’s defense strategy in June, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia needed to prepare for a post-coronavirus world that was “poorer, more dangerous and more disorderly”.

Australia’s increased strength in the Lowy index was not only due to the effective treatment of the pandemic, but also the impact on South East Asia and the Pacific, where it has directed foreign aid to help economic recovery.

“Australia carries less ‘luggage of great power’ and has demonstrated that it can be much more agile in Southeast Asia than its ally in the US,” Mr Lemahieu said.

Canberra’s military capacity is limited by that of Washington, but the Lowy Institute has ranked Australia higher than the US in terms of defense diplomacy, citing its ability to maintain defense partnerships with countries such as Japan. India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Children gather to take a closer look at an Australian Army Black Hawk helicopter in East Timor.
Children gather to take a closer look at an Australian Army helicopter near Dili in Timor-Leste.(Supplied: Department of Defense)

Along with New Zealand, Australia’s island country status and friendly relations with close neighbors, see it ranked as the most favorable strategic geography in Asia.

But in the Lowy index of resilience, Australia fell this year due to major ecological threats and greater dependence on refined fuel imports than any other economy in Asia.

“Australia’s economic contraction on the brink of a pandemic is also set to be more pronounced than that of Taiwan or Vietnam,” Mr Lemahieu said.

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