China-US influence gap grows as Beijing dominates on economy and diplomacy

A new Lowy Institute report finds that China’s influence relative to the United States continues to grow in Southeast Asia, and that Beijing is more influential in all but two countries in the region.

The report Asia Power Snapshot: China and the United States in Southeast Asia by Susannah Patton and Jack Sato applies a new methodology to data gathered over five years for the Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index to illustrate the relative influence of the two superpowers in the ten countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The report finds that:

  • The United States has lost influence to China in Southeast Asia over the past five years in four categories measured by the Asia Power Index: economic relationships, defence networks, diplomatic influence and cultural influence.
  • The United States is more influential than China in just two countries: the Philippines and Singapore. China’s influence is strongest in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.
  • Compared to China, the United States still has much stronger defence relationships with countries in Southeast Asia. But China increased its lead over the United States in terms of economic relationships with Southeast Asia.

Report co-author Susannah Patton says the report reveals the dimensions of strategic competition in the region. “In the countries where China is strongest, geographic proximity and relatively weak US engagement have enabled Beijing to outstrip Washington’s influence by large margins,” she said. “Washington’s defence relationships continue to far outstrip those of Beijing, but its economic relationships in 2022 were weaker than those of China in every country of Southeast Asia.”

The snapshot is available to read and download at the Lowy Institute website.


This report adapts the methodology used in the annual Asia Power Index. It assesses influence across four categories: economic relationships, defence networks, diplomatic influence and cultural influence, using 42 quantitative indicators. A total of 100 points is available in each measure, with points assigned to the US and China based on their relative performance. The full methodology is documented in the report.


Lead author Susannah Patton is available for interviews about the report findings. Contact to arrange.


Shane McLeod
Director, Media and Communications