New Delhi: China’s decision to stick with its zero COVID-19 plan for most of 2022 has declined its geopolitical standing in the Asia-Pacific region, and China’s decline has allowed the United States to retain its position as the most powerful country in Asia, an Australian think-tank has said in a recently released analysis.
China’s strength, the Sydney-based Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index for 2023 shows, has slipped because of its rigid COVID-19 lockdowns and border closures. The report ranks Japan as the third most powerful country, followed by India in the fourth place.
The report, in its key findings, states that India is a “patchy power” and has managed to make “an uneven strategic contribution to the regional balance”. Though India occupies the fourth position, it has suffered setbacks in recent years that, the report claims, have made the country drop out of a special category of major powers defined as countries with a comprehensive power greater than 40 points in the Asia Power Index.
“India remains an uneven contributor to the regional balance of power and continues to underperform relative to its resources. New Delhi’s Diplomatic Influence rose by one ranking to finish fourth overall 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,” the think-tank finds.
From 2018 onwards, the Asia Power Index has measured each country’s “Power Gap” – a country’s actual power as compared to its potential given the available resources. This analysis reveals India to be an “underachiever” and “performing less well than would be expected based on its size and available resources”, the findings have claimed.
India’s sheer size means the country is almost certainly destined to be a major power behind only the United States and China. Assessing India’s likely future influence in Asia then, the report says, “is challenging”. India ranks just ninth for Economic Relationships in Asia and the analysis claims the country has gone “backwards in this measure every year since 2018”. “Its choice in 2022 to absent itself from the trade pillar of the US IndoPacific Economic Framework will only cement this position,” the study finds.
Talking to a foreign news agency, the project lead for the Asia Power Index, Susannah Patton, said that China’s diplomatic influence in Asia “narrowly eclipsed that of the United States in 2022, partly because Beijing had wooed most countries across the region more assiduously than the (Joe) Biden administration had”. While China remains the largest trading partner for most countries across the region, Patton adds that China’s overall economic influence had been weakened by its strict COVID-zero measures. The pandemic-related restrictions were relaxed towards the end of 2022.
The US has retained the top spot in the 2022 power index because it also remains stronger than China across several other measures — including military capability, defence networks and cultural influence, the report finds. “The United States draws its power from its military capability and unrivalled regional defence networks,” the study claims. China too is steadily improving its military capability, the study finds, closing the gap with the US substantially in the past five years. India too, according to the study, scores highly in the Future Resources measure, reflecting its likely greater share of economic, military and demographic weight in the decades to come.
The position of Russia is interesting. Russia continues to rank as the fifth-most powerful country in Asia, a position it has occupied since 2018, though its influence is lopsided and declining, the report says. “This ranking is heavily skewed by Russia’s Military Capability, a measure on which it still ranks third after only the United States and China,” according to the Australian study. “While several Index countries have prominently opposed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, lukewarm condemnations by others in 2022 highlight the political salience of Moscow’s defence ties in the region.”