May 9, 2017 4:00 pm JST

Trump has blown US credibility in Southeast Asia: Poll

An overwhelming majority expects China to fill the strategic vacuum

MITSURU OBE, Nikkei staff writer, and ALAN SMITH, Nikkei data visualization editor

TOKYO -- U.S. President Donald Trump's policy, or lack thereof, on Southeast Asia has gutted American credibility, a survey by an influential think tank has found.

More than half of respondents in Southeast Asia say the U.S. has become less dependable as an ally and has lost strategic ground to China under Trump, according to a survey conducted by the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. The poll quizzed 318 people from government, academia, business and civil society in the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

More than half of the respondents expect the region to become more unstable in the next 12 months due to fiercer competition and animosity between Washington and Beijing.

Yet, an overwhelming majority continues to look to Washington to play an important role in regional security, including ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, where China is trying to establish maritime control against rival claims from small Southeast Asian nations.

What does this mean for Japan, the largest investor in ASEAN and a top trading partner?

Much to the consternation of Tokyo, most Southeast Asians think it is China, not Japan, that is likely to fill the void created by U.S. indifference.

If a healthy balance of power is to be maintained in Southeast Asia, Washington needs to be more engaged in the region and work more closely with its partners. The survey shows would be in the interest of both Southeast Asia and Japan.

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