The Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think tank, released its annual Asia Power Index on October 19, the third such report since 2018. Starkly demonstrating how the novel coronavirus is changing Asian geopolitical reality, the accompanying report concludes that the combined effect of China’s growing capabilities, coupled with the United States’ diminishing economic capabilities and relationships as well as dwindling diplomatic influence (all functions of the Trump administration’s decisions) now sums up to a situation where the U.S. “far from being the undisputed unipolar power, can more correctly be described as the first among equals in a bipolar Indo–Pacific.” The U.S. lost three points in its comprehensive score from last year, while China’s (76.1 out of 100, to 81.6 for the U.S.) remained intact.
But the index – covering 26 countries in the Asia-Pacific – also includes other significant results. For example, according to its (quantitative) cutoff for that club, India narrowly missed making the cut as a “major power” this year, instead now being clubbed with other “middle powers” such as Russia, Australia, and South Korea. Vietnam and Australia emerged as the two biggest gainers in the index, emerging as the region’s sixth and 12th most powerful country respectively — in each case, one spot up from last year.
In terms of the Quad members the scores themselves reveal a great deal about key (relative) strengths and weakness of each country.
|Australia ||India||Japan||United States|
|Comprehensive power||32.4, 6th||39.7, 4th||41, 3rd||81.6, 1st|
|Economic capability||13.0, 9th||25.3, 4th||32.1, 3rd||87.7, 2nd|
|Military capability||26.9, 8th||44.3, 4th||28.3, 7th||93.5, 1st|
|Resilience||46.8, 5th||54.5, 4th||38.0, 7th||86.3, 1st|
|Future resources||10.4, 9th||49.2, 3rd||12.0, 6th||75.5, 2nd|
|Economic relationships||24.7, 6th||23.7, 7th||47.5, 3rd||61.7, 2nd|
|Defense Networks||70.3, 2nd||26.3, 7th||47.4, 3rd||85.1, 1st|
|Diplomatic influence||59.2, 7th||65.9, 4th||88.8, 2nd ||74.9, 3rd|
|Cultural influence||30.7, 5th||43.7, 4th||47.4, 3rd||84.2, 1st|
As the Lowy report correctly flagged, diminishing diplomatic influence of the United States is a major concern, and one that should worry the incoming administration. But at the same time, the United States’ hard power capabilities remain extremely strong. In fact, in terms of military capabilities, it has a large lead of 26.7 points over China. China also lags significantly behind the U.S. when it comes to defense networks. But when it comes to economic relationships, Beijing has a whopping 37.2 points lead over Washington; the U.S.-China economic capabilities gap, while favoring the U.S., is also small enough to be of concern.
As the report notes, Japan emerges the quintessential smart power, diplomatic influence being the key instrument at Tokyo’s disposal, compensating for its deficiencies in military capabilities. But Japan’s resilience – its “capacity to deter real or potential external threats to state stability,” as the index defines the notion – as well as future resource base remains of serious concern.
India remains the promising power, exerting significant diplomatic influence in the region, its overall position driven both through its extant capabilities as well as future resource base and resilience. In fact, it is striking that the gap in diplomatic influence between India and the United States is only 9 points, the smallest with that country across all eight measures.
Australia emerges the networked power, taking second place in the defense networks ranking after the U.S. Its cultural influence – defined in the index as the “ability to shape international public opinion through cultural appeal and interaction” – has also shaped up as a key asset for the country, jumping four ranks since last year.