Wide support among Asian policymakers for US ‘pivot’ to region, survey finds

Influential people in many nations favour robust role for America but expect China to dominate

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 June, 2014, 10:20pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 June, 2014, 10:20pm


Policymakers in most Asian countries support a robust US role in the region, even though many expect China to become the most dominant power, a survey has found.

An 11-nation survey of influential figures found strong backing in almost every country except China for President Barack Obama's stated policy of "pivoting" towards Asia.

The study by the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies found that elites largely expect China's clout to keep growing.

But asked what would be best for their countries, wide majorities in the US as well as its regional partners Australia, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan chose continued US leadership, even if Washington's power declines in relative terms.

Elites in Southeast Asia and India preferred international cooperation, with only marginal numbers even in China saying Beijing's supremacy would be in their countries' best interest.

Japan, whose relationship with China has been deteriorating, was the most enthusiastic about a dominant US position. Only 2 per cent of Japanese experts said China played a positive role in regional security and 83 per cent expected Japan's most important economic relationship in a decade to be with the United States, even though China is already Japan's largest trading partner.

On the other end of the spectrum, Southeast Asian nations preferred a "quiet, persistent presence" by the United States, said Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the centre.

He said Southeast Asians appreciated the US commitment to freedom of navigation amid tensions with Beijing in the South China Sea, but "they really don't want to see confrontation and friction between the United States and China".

One surprise in the survey was in China itself, where 71 per cent of experts predicted that America would be the dominant power in East Asia in 2024 - more than said so in any other country, including even the US.

The finding "really gives the lie, if you will, to this notion that all Chinese are just brimming with hubris and assertiveness and aggressiveness", said Christopher Johnson, another China expert at the centre and a former CIA analyst.

Johnson said the survey reflected a shift from the 2008 economic crisis, when many Chinese predicted a steep US decline, as well as growing doubts within China on whether it can sustain growth.