World wants 'China's money, US leadership

World wants 'China's money, US leadership
General Fang Fenghui (centre on R), chief of the general staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), tours the bridge of the USS Coronado with its Commander Shawn Johnston, in San Diego, California May 13, 2014.

Predicting the US' demise in Asia has long been a cottage industry in many countries, including those in South- east Asia.

But what do the majority of international relations experts across the Asia-Pacific really think?

The Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, put that question to over 400 thought leaders between March 24 and April 22.

The respondents came from 11 countries and economies around the Pacific Rim: Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Myanmar, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore and the United States.

More than half of the elites surveyed (57 per cent) think the region will still be defined by US leadership in 10 years, a point that remains true of specialists even within China, although some don't necessarily see this as a good thing.

Just over half of the respondents believed China will be the greatest power in East Asia in 10 years, while 43 per cent believed the US would continue in this role.

Similarly, 56 per cent of respondents across all 11 economies expect China to be their country's most important economic partner in 10 years, followed by the US at 28 per cent.

Respondents on average were generally happy about China's economic impact on the region. But 61 per cent felt that China was having a negative influence on regional security.

This concern may explain another key finding: 79 per cent of respondents expressed support for the Obama administration's strategic rebalance towards Asia. Not surprisingly, only 18 per cent felt that the US rebalance was too confrontational towards China.

The White House will be pleased with the overall support in the region for the US rebalance, but it should take note of the fact that an average of 51 per cent of respondents also say the policy is being poorly implemented.

Such concern was particularly strong in the case of places geographically closest to China. Seventy-one per cent of Japanese respondents were concerned about how the US was implementing the policy, as did 64 per cent of South Koreans, 67 per cent of Indians and 59 per cent of Taiwanese.

With the exception of Singapore, South-east Asian thinkers were far less worried.

While 68 per cent of thought leaders in Singapore expressed concern over the implementation of the rebalance, the proportion dropped to 35 per cent in Indonesia and just 21 per cent in Thailand.

To placate its critics in North- east Asia, the Obama administration may need to push harder to get congressional support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and additional defence spending if it wants to correct this negative impression of policy implementation among many Asian opinion leaders.

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