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International relations

US influence in Pacific wanes due to pandemic response: think tank

China is forecast to close the 'power gap' by the end of the decade

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends a meeting in Tokyo on Oct. 6.    © Reuters

SYDNEY (Kyodo) -- The United States has lost a considerable degree of influence in the Indo-Pacific region due to its domestic and international handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to an assessment released by an Australian think tank on Monday.

The Asia Power Index, released by the independent Lowy Institute in Sydney, ranks 26 countries and territories according to the power they have in the region. Power is measured in eight categories, including military capability, economic resources and diplomatic influence.

Although the United States maintained its position as the most powerful country in the region at 81.6 points, its 10-point lead over second-place China in 2018 has halved in 2020.

Herve Lemahieu, director of the institute's Asian Power and Diplomacy Program, said the fact that the United States "suffered the largest reputational hit in the region" over its handling of the pandemic showed the "consequences of a failure in global leadership."

"The result is a powerful reminder that legitimacy and leadership on the world stage start with the capacity of leaders to govern well at home," Lemahieu wrote in his findings.

Although the pandemic also caused reputational damage to China -- whose score remains unchanged at 76.1 -- Beijing's strong economic recovery will see its economy become even more important to the region, the report found.

China also increased its military capability, which now ranks second to the United States.

However, Lemahieu said a lack of trust between China and its neighbors means it was less likely that Beijing would overtake the United States as the security guarantor in the region.

Based on current trends, China is forecast to close the "power gap" with the United States by the end of the decade.

Japan's third-place ranking of 41 points remains unchanged, and it continues to be described as the "quintessential smart power" that wields considerable influence in the region despite its limited resources.

However, the report forecast Tokyo will take most of the decade to recover economically from the pandemic.

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