U.S. policymakers should work with allies, particularly those in Southeast Asia, to counter the Beijing regime’s growing geopolitical clout, according to a recent report.
The 38-page report, which was a collaboration between Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council and the University of Denver and titled “China–US Competition: Measuring Global Influence,” compared quantifiable factors between the two countries across economic, political, and security dimensions. These factors include the amounts of goods traded and arms transferred, as well as shared intergovernmental organization membership. Then, an index was tabulated to describe how much influence China and the United States had over other countries for the period from 1960 to 2020.
In 1992, Beijing had more influence in 33 countries, compared to the United States in 160 countries, according to the report. Then, for three successive U.S. administrations—under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama—the net foreign influence of the United States dropped, before the trend was reversed under former President Donald Trump, despite Trump’s well-publicized withdrawals from a number of multilateral organizations.
The U.S. net influence dropped to 158 countries by the end of the Clinton administration in 2001. That number took a significant decline during the Bush administration, as a net total of 17 nations became more susceptible to Beijing’s influence, bringing the U.S. tally down to 141 by 2009.
Beijing’s influence grew by a net increase of four countries during the Obama administration, pushing the U.S. total to 137. However, the Trump administration reversed the slide, capturing a net increase of three countries to bring America’s sphere of influence back to 140. The report didn’t identify the countries that changed their alliance.
During the same time period, the Chinese communist regime saw the net number of countries more susceptible to its influence grow to 67 in 2012 from 33 in 1989 under former Chinese leaders Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. Since 2012, the year current Chinese leader Xi Jinping took power, Beijing’s tally of influence by the end of 2020 leveled off to 61 countries.
Even though the United States has maintained a sizable lead in global influence relative to China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has made significant gains in many parts of the world.
“Most notable is the erosion of U.S. influence relative to Chinese influence across nearly every global region [by 2020],” the report states.
“Chinese influence outweighs U.S. influence across much of Africa and Southeast Asia and has increased in former Soviet states. Chinese influence has also eroded the U.S. advantages in South America, Western Europe, and East Asia.”
Indonesia was listed as one of the countries that are now more open to Beijing’s influence. According to the report, the Southeast Asian country favored the United States from 1960 to 2010 before China took over as the more influential country in 2011. Other countries include Pakistan, Ghana, and Ethiopia.
“In each of these places, China’s economic tools of statecraft have been responsible for most of these gains,” the report states.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused by the CCP virus has “further accelerated the rate of these Chinese gains, with new and existing partners increasing their dependence on China,” according to the report.
The Chinese regime has been leveraging its ability to manufacture medical supplies including masks and vaccines for diplomacy, in an effort to drown out international criticism over its poor response at the start of the pandemic, including its initial cover-up and continued failure to be transparent with investigations.
A recent report by the International Federation of Journalists showed that when countries receive COVID-19 medical aid from China, their media narratives carry articles with a favorable view of the Chinese regime.
The report offered several recommendations for U.S. policymakers; in particular, pushing Japan to become a formal member of the “Five Eyes” alliance and working closely with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“Promote intra-ASEAN interdependence, increasing the region’s ability to counter large and growing Chinese influence,” the report states.
Other recommendations include negotiating a preferential trade agreement between the United States and the ASEAN and maintaining security ties with Indonesia and Thailand.