Contesting Influence: The Geopolitical Dynamics of China vs the United States in ASEAN

Contesting Influence: The Geopolitical Dynamics of China vs the United States  in ASEAN

In 2023, the geopolitical dynamics of the Southeast Asian region increasingly reflect a shift in public opinion toward two major powers, the United States and China. Recent data released by the ASEAN Studies Centre reveals interesting popularity trends among respondents from ASEAN countries.

The United States has gained impressive popularity among Southeast Asian respondents, reaching 61.1% in 2023, up from 57.0% the previous year. Conversely, China's support is only 38.9%. This comparison further underscores the disparity in popularity between the two nations, reflecting an interesting dynamic in regional public perception.

National-level data reveal a striking shift in views among ASEAN countries compared to the previous year. The United States has been able to garner significantly positive perceptions in Cambodia (jumping from 18.5% to 73.1%) and Laos (jumping from 18.2% to 58.9%), which stands out. Meanwhile, in the context of strategic policy preferences, there is a notable decline in support for the United States among respondents in six ASEAN countries, with Myanmar (down from 92% to 67.8%) and Singapore (down from 77.9% to 61.1%) showing the most pronounced impact, creating an interesting dynamic in the regional opinion landscape.

On the other hand, China continues to gain support in Malaysia (from 43% to 54.8%) and Indonesia (from 44.3% to 53.7%). Despite a decline in support for China in Brunei, it remains the most popular choice for China with overall support of 55% (down from 64.2%). Meanwhile, in Myanmar, where the majority of respondents prefer the United States, there is an intriguing upheaval as the percentage of support for China nearly quadruples, jumping from 8.0% in 2022 to 32.2% in 2023. This dynamic creates a notable highlight in the dynamics of regional relations.

Overall, the shifting dynamics of popularity between the United States and China among Southeast Asian respondents reflect complex dynamics in geopolitics and public opinion. The increased popularity of the United States, particularly in Cambodia and Laos, may be indicative of broader factors influencing perceptions. On the other hand, the continued strong support for China, particularly in Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia, suggests a significant strategic influence in the region. 

The divergence of views on these two major powers in ASEAN highlights the complexity of understanding the factors that influence international image. Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see how these developments will affect regional dynamics and how ASEAN countries will manage relations with both major powers.

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