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International relations

China's power catching up to that of US, Asia ranking shows

Lowy's Asia Power Index reveals Washington's fading predominance in the region

The second annual Asia Power Index shows China's clout nearing that of the U.S., especially in economic terms.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- China is rapidly closing in on the U.S. in terms of political clout in Asia, according to the Sydney-based Lowy Institute's latest ranking.

Asia Power Index 2019 shows the U.S. 8.6 points ahead of China, down from a lead of 10.1 points last year.

The U.S. remains atop the table with a score of 84.5, down from 84.6 last year but the only country with a score as high as 80.

China scored 75.9, up 1.4 points. It has a nearly 33-point lead over No. 3 Japan, at 42.5 points. China's score increased more than that of any other country. The three next biggest gainers were North Korea, Malaysia and New Zealand.

The second annual index was released last week. It calculates the "state power" of 25 countries and territories based on 126 indicators. These are as diverse as gross domestic product, the value of foreign direct investment, and the number of weapons, free trade agreements and cultural heritage assets.

China edged out the U.S. in terms of economic resources. Twenty-one indicators define economic resources, and China ranked No. 1 in nine, including GDP at purchasing power parity, official reserves, human resources in research and development, electricity generation from renewables, and global exports.

China gained in cultural influence, while the U.S. lost points in the category. China was ranked No. 1 in diplomatic influence again, while the U.S. was ranked No. 3.

U.S. President Donald Trump may be accelerating this trend as he engages in trade wars and even uses strong-arm tactics against allies in attempts to reverse trade deficits.

Beijing received the highest score in political leadership and strategic ambition, which Lowy sees as enhancing its diplomatic influence.

China also led the field in economic relationships, with a nearly 30-point lead over the U.S. But it is uncertain if Beijing can maintain this position as more neighboring countries grow suspicious of Xi Jinping's flagship Belt and Road projects amid mounting concerns in these countries that they have stepped into a "debt trap."

Malaysia and Myanmar have reopened negotiations with Beijing over some projects.

China also faces an internal growth hurdle in the shape of its declining workforce. According to the survey, by midcentury China's total population will be approximately 20% smaller than that of India, which is becoming more of a regional rival to the Middle Kingdom.

Japan and India retained their spots at Nos. 3 and 4. 

India scored slightly lower in military capability, resilience and future resources. New Delhi's biggest handicap in comparison to Beijing, the think tank said, is its lack of control over the allocation of economic resources. China's power, Lowy said, is derived from its control of these resources.

Malaysia was one of the most improved middle powers; its overall score of 22.8 marked a 1.2-point increase from last year.

Under the strong leadership of 93-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, Kuala Lumpur has refocused its external policy on bringing greater geoeconomic security and bargaining power to Southeast Asia.

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