Beijing’s draconian “Zero-COVID” policies during the pandemic caused its influence in Asia to plummet, while Australia, which has been less affected by the pandemic, is within striking distance of overtaking Russia, a new report shows.
China’s overall power in Asia declined the most in 2022, according to the Lowy Institute’s latest edition of Asia Power Index, while the overall strength of most countries is declining, Australia is the least affected middle power, further narrowing the gap with Russia in fifth place.
First published in 2018, the Index evaluates the balance of power in Asia through 133 indicators across eight thematic measures: military capability and defence networks, economic capability and relationships, diplomatic and cultural Influence, as well as resilience and future resources.
This year, the Index includes three new indicators that track high-level diplomatic engagement between all countries, enabling new comparisons of diplomatic and defence influence across Asia.
Ranked first place in the report was the United States, with a score of 80.7; China came in second with a score of 72.5.
The communist regime’s score on measures of economic power and using it to gain geopolitical advantage fell to its lowest level since 2018, with its economy growing at the second slowest rate in almost 50 years, the report found, putting the United States back in first place.
“China’s regional advantage has always been its proximity and degree of connection with other countries in Asia,” Susannah Patton, who led the project for the Lowy Institute, told Sydney Morning Herald.
“But on all the indicators we looked at—flight connections, the flow of tourists, the flow of international students, the flow of business people, the flow of capital—China really suffered during the pandemic.”
Despite its harsh “Zero-COVID” measures, Beijing narrowly overtook the United States as the most diplomatically influential in Asia in 2022, having hosted more leaders and foreign ministers than any other country in the region.
“[China] continues to pose a formidable and growing challenge to U.S. power in Asia through gains in its military capability,” reads a statement by the Institute.
“The United States registered annual gains for its unsurpassed Defence Networks and — albeit from a very low base — for the quality of its Economic Relationships in the region.”
Australia Catching up With Russia
Russia’s diplomatic influence and reputation have plummeted since its invasion of Ukraine, which led to a sharp decline in the nation’s influence in Asia, where its composite score was 31.60.
As a middle power, Australia’s score (30.9) has caught up with Russia, remaining in sixth place – below the United States, China, Japan, India, and Russia but ahead of more populous countries, including South Korea and Indonesia.
Over the past year, Australia has made significant gains in diplomatic influence, but its score in defence indicators has fallen.
“Australia was the least affected middle power overall by the pandemic,” reads the report. “Alone among regional advanced economies, and despite a drop in regional influence during nearly two years of strict border closures, the country’s comprehensive power is now approximately back to its pre-pandemic level.”
The top 10 countries in terms of overall strength are the United States, China, Japan, India, Russia, Australia, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand.
The only country to gain overall strength was Cambodia, which moved up two places.