Assessing U.S. and Chinese Influence in Southeast Asia

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A short, spoken-word summary from CSIS’s Gregory Poling on his report with Andreyka Natalegawa, Assessing U.S. and Chinese Influence in Southeast Asia.

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Power dynamics in Southeast Asia, including soft power, are fluid. The continued economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, China’s more insular nationalism, the fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and widening U.S.-China strategic competition are shuffling U.S. and Chinese comparative advantages across the region.

Southeast Asian attitudes toward the United States and China—and views of their respective strategic and economic roles in the region—are a vital component in this strategic competition. They constitute the metrics of soft power and influence and need to be considered when predicting where regional governments are likely to align on any given issue. The available polling indicates that the United States enjoys more soft power and popularity than China across most of the region. Even with major gaps in public polling, majorities in the most populous states—Indonesia, and especially the Philippines and Vietnam—prefer the United States to China. Whether that is still true of most elites in Southeast Asia is unclear. In any case, the overall preference for the United States among regional publics is a significant advantage for Washington as it endeavors to coax governments into aligning with it on a range of issues, or at least keep regional states from aligning with China on issues that would damage U.S. interests.

This report is made possible through the support of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO).

Gregory B. Poling
Senior Fellow and Director, Southeast Asia Program and Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative