The Lowy Institute, the Sydney-based reputed think-tank has just come out with its latest power rankings for the Asia-Pacific region. Starting with 2018, each year this prestigious institute comes out with interpretative rankings centred on the emerging geo-political and strategic developments in the region.
The Asia Power Index, 2020 has chosen 26 countries in the region covering major ones from China, Japan, India to even Nepal and Papua New Guinea. The rankings and study is based on seven significant parameters including economic, military capabilities, economic and security networks, future resources and diplomatic and cultural influence.
While on a comprehensive scale, the US the lone global superpower, though geographically does not belong to the region, retains the first spot with 81.6 points and maintains its lead with a big margin in domains like military power, economic, security relationships and cultural influence in the region.
China though for the last few years had been closing in on the US, it is the gap that has reduced between the two is noticeable. In the continued era of Covid-pandemic recovery, it is China that has taken a lead over many others and that includes the US too.
Irrespective of the final outcomes of its ambitious BRI project, it has helped China to enhance its economic networking (98.9 points) in a big way, leaving all the other nations, including the US (61.7 points) behind with a huge margin.
India’s refusal to join the RCEP and subsequent economic downslide, analysts point out that it has resulted in its ranking getting down to 7th with a mere 23.7 points.
The American elusiveness in maintaining a semblance of unity with its allies in Europe and Asia-Pacific and the enhanced level of Chinese economic involvement in the region especially with the BRI has positively impacted the growing stature of Chinese diplomatic influence too.
The Lowy Institute accords China with 91.1 points as against the US (74.9 points) and India (65.9 points) on this count. To support this contention, analysts suggest the incessant increasing Chinese influence all across the region in spite of its belligerent behaviour in the South China Sea, Senkaku islands, Ladakh region and its alleged role in the spread of coronavirus worldwide.
It is the military domain however the US lead continues to be very high against China. As the lead security provider in the region with bilateral and multilateral alliances with countries like Japan, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and others and with QUAD in its formative shape, China (66.8 points) lags much behind the US (93.5 points) in military capability.
In terms of defence networks in the region, the American (85.1 points) lead is virtually impregnable. China though is building up direct and indirect military networks with Pakistan, North Korea and probably Iran but with a mere 24.1 points, stand at a lowly 8th after India in terms of military networks/cooperation in Asia.
It is the preponderant military dominance of the US, alone as well as with its partners, that probably acts a big deterrent to China against its desperate plans to invade and capture Taiwan.
Another significant blow that might hit Chinese ambitions through this report is that Vietnam (13th) and Taiwan (14th), countries that China is not very fond of, have enhanced their overall power and are the ones who have gained vis-à-vis last year’s rankings.
For the US, there are lessons to get its act right, economically, politically and militarily too to ensure its preeminent position as the sole superpower for more time and not let China override its waning influence in the region.
It requires to work fast to rebuild its Covid-ravaged economy quickly. On the political and military front, the US needs to move forward on taking its partners in NATO and Europe together, build a better working relationship with Russia and secure peace with Iran. A formalised QUAD with India, Japan and Australia could well turn out to be a speed breaker for growing Chinese ambitions in the region.
As for India, it needs to initiate relevant economic reforms to rejuvenate and enhance its comprehensive national power. On foreign economic relationships too, India needs to forge economic networks on a bilateral and multilateral basis that will help it to increase economic and diplomatic influence.
On the cultural domain too, it needs to use its culture, cinema and soft power in a more coherent way to increase its power on a wider scale. The recently initiated military reforms like theaterisation of commands, building up of IBGs, R&D on laser weapon and systems, AI and drones besides acquisition of modern weapon systems and platforms, indigenously as well as imported ones and overhauling of DRDO and involvement of private sector in boosting the defence infrastructure, could well show up incredible positive results in the next few years that might significantly reduce its current power asymmetry with China.