The response to the coronavirus will strengthen Australia, Vietnam and Taiwan...

In Australia, Vietnam, and Taiwan, power in Asia has risen in part due to handling the coronavirus pandemic.

Important points:

  • Australia overtook South Korea in the Lowy Institute’s third annual Asia Power Index
  • India has lost its status as a “great power” and has cast doubts about its ability to compete with China for influence in Asia
  • The pandemic has devastated economies and set back many parts of Asia

This comes from the Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index for 2020, which rates the power of 26 nations in the region across a range of measures – from military capabilities and defense networks to diplomatic and cultural influence.

The index shows that the United States remains the most powerful country in Asia, but its power continues to decline amid the rise of China and the loss of prestige due to its chaotic response to the pandemic.

“Tackling the pandemic was a necessary but not the only requirement for improving a country’s regional reputation in Asia,” Herve Lemahieu, program director for power and diplomacy in Asia at the Lowy Institute, told ABC.

Australia outperformed South Korea in the index this year, making it the sixth strongest country in Asia. The USA, China, Japan, India and Russia followed.

The Military Honor Guard perform during the National Day celebrations in Taipei.

The Military Honor Guard perform during the National Day celebrations in Taipei.

Taiwan’s Military Honor Guard perform during the country’s National Day celebrations.((AP: Chiang Ying-ying)

Ascending China, indolent India

Taiwan gained most of its international reputation, which, according to Lemahieu, contrasted with China’s “more martial diplomatic stance this year on the rise of wolf-warrior diplomacy.”

While Australia saw a decline in its ties with China in 2020, it is not alone.

Beijing found itself in diplomatic clashes with India over the country’s Himalayan border, the UK over banning Huawei from the UK 5G network and with Canada over China’s detention of several of its nationals, to name a few.

China has also quarreled with Western powers over the increasing repression of dissidents in Hong Kong, the mass imprisonment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and Beijing’s ambitious territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Indian soldiers stand in formation after disembarking from a military transport plane.

Indian soldiers stand in formation after disembarking from a military transport plane.

Tension between India and China has reached its highest level in decades.((Reuters: Danish Siddiqui)

While China’s power remained unchanged according to the Asia Power Index, India lost its status as a “great power”.

The Lowy Institute said India’s position as China’s future competitor is “far less certain” as the economic and social damage caused by the pandemic is widespread.

The country has officially recorded more than 7.4 million coronavirus cases and at least 113,000 deaths.

A health worker takes a nasal swab from a shopkeeper during a random test for COVID-19 in a market in Gauhati, India.

A health worker takes a nasal swab from a shopkeeper during a random test for COVID-19 in a market in Gauhati, India.

A health worker takes a nasal swab sample from a shopkeeper in Gauhati, India.((AP: Anupam Nath)

“The resources for India’s rise are certainly there, but the point we are making is that it will take a lot longer than many people believe.”

In contrast, the economy in China has recovered from the worst of the crisis there.

And in what the Lowy Institute calls the “new space race” for soft power – in response to the challenge of climate change – China recently made a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2060.

“China’s rapid recovery will further cement the country’s economic centrality in its region, while the relative importance of the US economy in Asia is likely to decline,” said Lemahieu.

American flags are displayed along with Chinese flags on a trishaw in Beijing.

American flags are displayed along with Chinese flags on a trishaw in Beijing.

The reputation of the United States has been damaged by tackling the COVID-19 crisis.((AP: Andy Wong)

Australia’s strategic position is favorable, but the climate is a threat

The Asian economy has been predicted to be larger than the rest of the world combined by 2020, but the coronavirus has taken the breaks.

“The long-term economic impact for [Asia] pronounced and that is a big surprise, “said Mr Lemahieu.

For example, it is expected that Japan will take until 2030 to fully recover from the economic fallout from the pandemic.

When the government unveiled its defense strategy in June, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia needed to prepare for a post-coronavirus world that was “poorer, more dangerous and more disorderly”.

Australia’s increasing power over the Lowy Index was due not only to its effective pandemic control, but also to its influence in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, where it has used foreign aid to support economic recovery.

“Australia has less ‘heavy baggage’ and has shown that it can be far more nimble in Southeast Asia than its ally in the US,” said Lemahieu.

Canberra’s military capabilities are eclipsed by Washington’s, but the Lowy Institute has ranked Australia higher than the US on defense diplomacy because it has defense partnerships with countries like Japan, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Children gather to take a closer look at an Australian Army Black Hawk helicopter in East Timor.

Children gather to take a closer look at an Australian Army Black Hawk helicopter in East Timor.

Children gather to take a closer look at an Australian Army helicopter near Dili in Timor-Leste.((Supplied: Ministry of Defense)

Along with New Zealand, Australia’s island state status and friendly relations with immediate neighbors, Australia is ranked as the country with the most favorable strategic geography in Asia.

On the Lowy Resilience Indicator, Australia declined this year than any other economy in Asia due to major environmental threats and a greater reliance on imports of refined fuels.

“Australia’s economic decline after the pandemic is expected to be more pronounced than that of Taiwan or Vietnam,” Lemahieu said.

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