On 28 November 2018, the Perth USAsia Centre launched the Asia Power Index, in collaboration with the Lowy Institute, at Government House in Perth. The launch featured The Hon Kim Beazley AC, Governor of Western Australia; Dr Michael Fullilove, Executive Director, Lowy Institute; Dr Hervè Lemahieu, Director of the Asia Power and Diplomacy Program, Lowy Institute; Professor Stephen Smith, Director, Perth USAsia Centre and Professor Rikki Kersten, Interim Pro Vice-Chancellor, College of Arts, Business, Law and Social Sciences, Murdoch University.
The Asia Power Index developed by the Lowy Institute is an analytical tool for sharpening debate on power in the Asia-Pacific. The Index ranks 25 countries and territories in terms of their power, reaching as far west as Pakistan, as far north as Russia, and as far into the Pacific as Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.
Click here to view the photos from the event.
The Evolution of Diplomacy and Power
With global wealth and power moving eastwards towards us in the Indo-Pacific region, there is a need for a research tool to track the nature and speed of shifting power. The Asia Power Index was developed by the Lowy Institute to sharpen the debate on power dynamics in Asia, recognising that power is changing so quickly within the region.
In his opening keynote address, Dr Michael Fullilove claimed the diplomatic geometry of the region is changing and as an ally of the United States (US), Australia has become used to the linear application of power of the traditional model of a US-centric “hub and spokes” model for the past 70 years. This, however, is changing and Dr Fullilove claimed, “Triangular diplomatic shapes are increasingly becoming important.”
Despite the uncertain future of US influence and power in the region, the US remains the most powerful country in the region, followed closely by China. Hervè Lemahieu stated that although it may be tempting to reduce Asia and Asian geopolitics to a two-player game, the Indo-Pacific ecosystem is, in fact, made up of a wider array of actors.
The Asia Power Index measures power
across 25 countries using eight measures, particularly economic resources, military capability, resilience, future trends, diplomatic influence, economic relationships, defence networks and cultural influence. In his opening speech, Lemahieu discussed that the broadly conceived concept of power is how states advance their interests abroad and achieve outcomes favourably to those interests. Traditionally, this has been understood as “hard power” – the ability to impose costs or confer benefits that shape the choices of others. Historically, this has been measured in different metrics such as naval capability and nuclear power. Today, however, the metric of measuring hard power is generally characterised by defence spending. The Asia Power Index acknowledges that military capability and defence spending is only one part of the picture, which is why it also includes other measurements such as resilience and diplomatic influence.
During the panel discussion, Professor Rikki Kersten asked, “What can’t be measured?” Professor Kersten explained that there is a difference between actual power and perceived power. Professor Kersten identified China and Russia as countries that are prioritising the latter as a “back door” to having real power and influence.
Though the Asia Power Index has ranked countries like Russia and North Korea as the “greatest underachievers” in the region, Professor Kersten claimed that they have arguably exercised the greatest influence through disruption – or “ratbaggery”. Professor Kersten claimed that although the Asia Power Index is an important tool to measure power, it is also important to look at how nations such as Russia and North Korea have also successfully exercised power beyond what the Asia Power Index presents.
The Future of Australian Power
The Asia Power Index not only paints a geopolitical landscape of the region today, but it also presents Australia with choices for its future. Dr Fullilove claimed that he hopes the Asia Power Index will focus Australian’s minds on the challenges of the future. According to Dr Fullilove, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade budget has flat-lined since 9/11, in comparison to intelligence agencies and defence forces and he believes that the network is stretched and not fit for purpose for the future challenges for Australia. Dr Fullilove also claimed that when Australian politicians are caught in the political chaos in Canberra, then Australia’s political leaders does not have the capacity to further build relations in the region and deepen their connections with their overseas counterparts.
We need to rediscover our ambition; we need to revive our history of creative diplomacy. – Dr Michael Fullilove, Executive Director, Lowy Institute