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ASEAN would choose US over China if forced to choose sides: investigation

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Signs with the American flag and the Chinese flag are seen outside a store selling foreign goods in Qingdao, China’s Shandong Province, September 19, 2018.

AFP | Getty Images

SINGAPORE Southeast Asian support for the United States appeared to increase after Joe Biden won the presidential election, according to an annual survey by Singaporean think tank ISEAS Yusof-Ishak Institute.

The State of Southeast Asia Survey released last week found that 61.5% of those polled favor alignment with the United States rather than China if the region is forced to choose sides. That’s an increase from 53.6% who chose the United States over China in the same poll a year ago.

“The region’s support for Washington may have increased because of the prospects of the new Biden administration,” the report of the inquiry reads.

Responses to the latest survey were gathered from November 18 last year to January 10 this year after Biden was due to defeat Donald Trump in the election, but before he was invested as president.

The survey involved more than 1,000 respondents from the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. Respondents include government officials, business people, as well as analysts from universities, think tanks and research institutions.

Comparing national data, a majority of respondents from seven Southeast Asian countries chose the United States over China in the latest survey. That’s an increase from three in the previous edition, with Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand switching sides.

Despite this, the largest proportion of survey respondents chose China over the United States, ASEAN and others as the most influential power in Southeast Asia.

About 76.3% of those polled chose China as the most influential economic power, while 49.1% chose China as the most influential political and strategic power.

Importance of Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia has been caught in the midst of US-Chinese competition in recent years.

The region is home to more than 650 million people and some of the fastest growing economies in the world. Its proximity to the South China Sea, a vital shipping route through which billions of dollars in global trade transit, adds to its strategic importance.

The United States has for many years been an important presence in the region through security and economic commitments. But during Trump’s tenure, the United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership a mega-trade pact that included several Southeast Asian countries, and senior U.S. government officials were notably absent from a few important regional summits.

This apparent lack of interest on the part of the United States in recent years has coincided with China’s more aggressive push in the region through programs that include infrastructure investments under the Belt and Road Initiative. Road.

But the latest ISEAS survey found that a majority of respondents around 68.6% were optimistic that the United States under Biden would increase its engagement in Southeast Asia. This compared to a year ago, when 77% believed the U.S. engagement would decrease, according to the survey.

The region’s confidence in the United States also fell from 30.3% a year ago to 48.3% in the latest survey.

“Only time will tell whether the region’s renewed confidence in the United States is misplaced or not,” the report read.

Early signs have shown that the Biden administration will focus more on the region in the coming years.

The president has bolstered his foreign policy team with experts on Asia, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a call with his Filipino counterpart, pledged to “support” the countries of Southeast Asia against Chinese pressure in the South China Sea.

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