Survey: For Malaysians, China still more influential than US in South-east Asia

Kenneth Tee
A survey revealed that Malaysians still view China as the most influential economic power compared to the United States in South-east Asia according to Malaysians, as rivalry between the two superpowers continued to heat up. ― AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 16 — Many Malaysians view the People’s Republic of China as the most influential economic power compared to the United States in South-east Asia, as rivalry between the two superpowers continued to heat up, a Singaporean think-tank survey revealed today.

In the State of South-east Asia 2020 survey by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, 78.5 per cent of respondents from Malaysia viewed China as the most influential economic power in the region, up 0.1 per cent from last year’s poll.

A mere 6.7 per cent of the respondents welcomed the United State’s regional economic influence.

However, of the respondents that answered China, 67.2 per cent said they were worried about its growing regional economic influence while the remaining welcomed China’s influence.

On which has the most political and strategic influence in South-east Asia, the results were similar with 54.6 per cent answering China compared to 25.8 per cent who answered the United States.

The 2020 figure on China was up from 43.7 per cent in the previous year’s poll while the 2020 figure on United States was down from 29.9 per cent.

Respondents from Malaysia were also overwhelmingly worried of China’s growing regional political and strategic influence in the country with 80.9 per cent stating so.

A total of 1,308 respondents from all ten Asean member states participated in the 2020 survey, with 222 respondents from Malaysia.

In totality, China is seen as the most influential power in nine out of ten Asean member states except the Philippines.

The survey also pointed out that China’s economic influence was deeply felt but not very well-received in the region with the United States continuing to lose political and strategic ground in the region.

“Among those who see China as the most influential economic power, 71.9 per cent are worried about its growing regional economic influence.

“The US continues to lose political and strategic ground in the region with its share decreasing from 30.5 per cent in 2019 to 26.7 per cent in 2020,” it added.

The survey said although only a handful of total respondents (7.9 per cent) chose the United States as the most influential economic power in the region, American economic power did not elicit negative responses like China with 70.2 per cent welcoming Washington’s regional economic influence.

The United States was the overwhelming choice among respondents from the Philippines and Vietnam at 83 per cent and 86 per cent respectively with strong support partly due to ongoing maritime disputes their countries have with Beijing over the South China Sea.

Last March, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said he would side with China over the United States if pressed, but purely in terms of the former’s economic resources.

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