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China’s power in Asia diminished by ‘COVID-zero,’ study shows

An epidemic control worker wears PPE as he sanitizes a pedestrian shopping area on Dec. 8, 2022, in Beijing. China said Sunday it would stop publishing daily COVID-19 case numbers. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images/TNS)
February 17, 2023

China’s standing in the Asia-Pacific has been damaged by its decision to stick with “COVID-zero” for most of 2022, leaving the U.S. to cement its position as the most influential power in the region, according to an Australian research group.

The Sydney-based Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index for 2023 shows that China registered the greatest decline out of the 26 nations and territories in the report, while strong economic links and defense ties solidified the U.S. as the leading power in the Asia-Pacific.

The index measures power based on 133 indicators across eight core themes, assessing how much sway is held diplomatically, economically and militarily. Overall, U.S. was placed first, followed by China, Japan, India and Russia.

Susannah Patton, project lead for the Asia Power Index at Lowy, said China’s score had dipped across almost every indicator, as the country’s connections with the rest of Asia declined “sharply” during “COVID-zero.”

“We’ve heard about the economic impact of China’s border closures but this really shows us for the first time I think the strategic impact of the border closures,” she said.

China’s rankings on cultural influence and economic capability fell the most, due to Beijing shutting off its citizens and businesses from the world for much of the year. One area where it did see improvement was in its military capability, closing the gap with the U.S. from 27 points in 2018 to 23 points in 2022. The report notes its extensive military drills around Taiwan.

Patton said almost all countries had seen a dip in their rankings in 2022, driven partly by the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic, with only Australia and Indonesia bucking the trend in the top 10 powers in the Asia Pacific.

While the U.S. ranking declined slightly overall, Patton said it had kept its top position thanks to the Biden administration’s diplomatic posture and the relatively strong American economy.

On the outlook for the year ahead, Patton said China’s rapid re-opening and diplomatic outreach to countries such as Australia could shape the next set of rankings, while the U.S. will need to work to solidify its alliances with the Philippines and South Korea.

“China is going to be a much more formidable competitor to the United States over the next year,” she said.


© 2023 Bloomberg L.P

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