United States holds edge in Asia as China flounders with pandemic impact
The Lowy Institute has released the fifth edition of the Asia Power Index, a digital analytical tool that ranks 26 countries and territories according to the power they wield in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Index was first published in 2018. It evaluates the balance of power in Asia through 133 indicators across eight thematic measures: Military Capability and Defence Networks, Economic Capability and Relationships, Diplomatic and Cultural Influence, as well as Resilience and Future Resources. More than half of our data points involve original Lowy Institute research, while the rest are aggregated from hundreds of publicly available national and international sources.
This year, the Index includes three new indicators based on primary research that track high-level diplomatic engagement between all Index countries, enabling new comparisons of diplomatic and defence influence across Asia. These new indicators quantify the number of bilateral and multilateral diplomatic dialogues at foreign minister level and above held by each Index country, along with their convening power — the number of visits by regional leaders or foreign ministers hosted by each country.
In 2023, the top ten countries for overall power are: the United States, China, Japan, India, Russia, Australia, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand. The only country to improve its comprehensive power ranking in 2023 is Cambodia, which has risen two places to become the 20th ranked power in the region.
Key findings in the Asia Power Index 2023:
- China’s self-imposed isolation exacted a heavy toll on its standing. As much of the world lifted or relaxed strict measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, China is only now emerging from tough zero-Covid policies that sharply curtailed its global and regional connectivity. Yet despite its Covid challenges, China narrowly overtook the United States on measures of diplomatic influence in 2022 and continues to pose a formidable and growing challenge to US power in Asia through gains in its military capability.
- The United States remains on top of the Index due largely to China’s setbacks. It leads China in six of the eight measures of power, having regained the top spot for Economic Capability. The United States registered annual gains for its unsurpassed Defence Networks and — albeit from a very low base — for the quality of its Economic Relationships in the region.
- India is an uneven regional player and underperforms relative to its resources. India’s Diplomatic Influence rose in 2022, with experts rating it highly for its leaders’ ability to prosecute the country’s national interests both in Asia and on the global stage. Its interests in balancing China overlap with those of Washington, including through the Quad partnership with Australia and Japan. Yet India’s influence has gaps: it remains concentrated in South Asia, and it is not clear what role if any India would play in relation to key flashpoints in East Asia such as Taiwan.
- The clock is ticking on Japan’s “smart power” influence. The fundamental factors underpinning Japan’s influence in Asia over recent decades — wealth, economic size and technological edge — are weakening. Tokyo’s relative influence is contracting even faster than its resources, suggesting that Japan’s legacy influence in the region may be on borrowed time. And despite some change, it is only slowly developing a more active regional security role.
- Despite their economic recoveries, countries in the region are still suffering from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Most are less economically resilient than prior to the pandemic — having become more dependent on their leading trade partner, in most cases China. Only two Index countries have higher comprehensive power scores in 2022 than they did in 2019. This means that few powers are as able to influence the international environment in their favour as they were prior to the pandemic.
- Australia was the least affected middle power overall by the pandemic. Alone among regional advanced economies, and despite a drop in regional influence during nearly two years of strict border closures, the country’s comprehensive power is now approximately back to its pre-pandemic level.
- Southeast Asia is more diplomatically dynamic than ever. Much commentary about the Indo-Pacific portrays the countries of Southeast Asia as struggling to navigate rising major power competition or internal challenges such as violent conflict in Myanmar. The Index challenges this narrative, demonstrating Indonesia’s diplomatic importance and the growing influence of even small Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia.
- Russia, despite its legacy of defence ties with Asia, risks growing irrelevance. Russia recorded a steep decline of more than four places in its Diplomatic Influence ranking in 2022 — reflecting Moscow’s loss of reputation and its strategic preoccupation with the invasion of Ukraine. It also registered a decrease in comprehensive power for a third consecutive year, with declining scores for seven out of the eight measures of power. Moscow will find it difficult to sustain arms transfers to partners in Asia given the heavy impact of the Ukraine conflict on its military-industrial capacity.
ACCESS THE ASIA POWER INDEX
The Asia Power Index 2023 is available an an interactive presentation at power.lowyinstitute.org. An analysis report by Susannah Patton, Jack Sato and Hervé Lemahieu is available to download.
ABOUT THE ASIA POWER INDEX
First published in 2018, the Lowy Institute Asia Power Index evaluates the relative power of 26 countries in the Indo-Pacific region by assessing their strengths against 133 indicators across eight thematic measures. It surveys countries as far west as Pakistan, as far north as Russia, and as far into the Pacific as Australia, New Zealand and the United States. The Lowy Institute established the Index to track the changing distribution of power in an increasingly contested Indo-Pacific region.
Director, Media and Communications