Across Asia, respondents foresee power shifting to China, but there are divergent views on the impact of this shift, says a survey of strategic elites in 11 Asian nations by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
For example, 79% of Indian respondents believe China will be East Asia’s dominant power in 10 years. This is considerably higher than the regional average of 53%. However, India still expects the US to be the nation’s most important economic partner.
Most other surveyed nations rank China as their most important economic partner in 10 years.
When asked about the future dynamics of international relations in East Asia over the next decade, 57% of East Asian respondents on average predicted continued US leadership even if relative US power declines, this view being strongest in South Korea and Japan.
A plurality of respondents on average also felt that continued US leadership would be in the best interests of their country, though India was on the lower end of this spectrum, preferring to rely on a community of strengthened multilateral institutions.
The US rebalance to Asia found broad support among regional respondents, though there were concerns about its implementation. India had one of the lowest scores in the region in judging the rebalance as “too confrontational towards China,” indicating a degree of comfort in the rebalance causing Sino-American confrontation.
Across East Asia, 79% of respondents expressed support for the Obama administration’s strategic rebalance to Asia. China was the only country where a majority of respondents disapproved of the rebalance.
A failure to resolve territorial issues was deemed the greatest obstacle to community-building in East Asia. By a wide margin over other countries, India views unresolved historical issues with its neighbours as a possible source of military conflict. Clearly this is a nod to Pakistan.
Most East Asian respondents considered regional economic and financial crises to be the greatest challenge to their nation’s security. India also ranked this high, but, together with Korea, also exhibited real concerns about nuclear proliferation.
Territorial disputes and climate change were ranked highly throughout the region as threats to national security, as well.
There was broad support throughout Asia for the numerous structures supporting regional integration. India’s strategic elite gave relatively little importance to the regional trade structures of which it is not a part, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the China-Japan-Korea Free Trade Agreement.
However, India was aligned in ranking the importance of other regional economic frameworks. It ranked the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership quite high, with 75% of respondents believing it as very or somewhat important.
The shifting balance of power in Asia, or the expectation of a shift, will have important global implications. India’s “Look East” policy, combined with America’s rebalance to Asia, opens the door for an entirely new set of possible bilateral engagements.
India’s and America’s priorities in the region are largely aligned, but we will need to focus on consistent, practical cooperation so the two countries’ interests and expectations are met.
The author holds the Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies at CSIS, Washington DC.