The survey was conducted during the first weeks of March 2017. During this period the global landscape was dominated by events that included the United States (U.S.) Presidential election campaign, the lead-up to an Australian Federal election, the slowdown of Chinese economic growth to a ‘new normal’, the acceleration of North Korea’s nuclear missile testing, the impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun-Hye and the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system on the Korean Peninsula. These events, in the region and beyond, provide the backdrop against which responses were gathered.
The overall survey results show that assessments of American influence and value in the region have diminished – particularly in Australia, Japan and Korea, but not in China. All surveyed countries, except China, generally perceive that the U.S. has a positive influence in the region, all countries see trade with the United States as overwhelmingly positive and all countries are in favour of free trade agreements. India (67%), China (54%) and Indonesia (37%) welcome foreign investment in critical infrastructure while Korea (26%), Japan (21%) and especially Australia (18%) do not. Highest levels of isolationism were reported in India (50%) and Australia (43%) with China reporting the lowest levels (18%). Among all surveyed countries, Australia and Korea place the highest value on democracy although all value democratic forms of government.
In Australia, respondents increasingly see China as having the most influence in the Indo-Pacific region (72%). More than half of Australians (62%) perceive American influence in the next five years as negative under U.S. President Donald Trump. Despite this, most Australians (71%) still see the U.S. as the global ‘rule setter’ and the majority of Australian respondents (93%) believe in the Australia-U.S. Alliance such that in the event of a crisis America would come to Australia’s aid. Australians remain concerned about Islamic extremism (37%) although are increasingly concerned about possible involvement in a conflict with China (13%) and internal political instability among its Asian neighbours (12%).
In China, most perceive the influence of the United States in the region as declining with its best years in the past (71%) and see the U.S. as doing more harm than good in the region (43%). The majority of Chinese respondents appreciate the importance of the U.S.–Chinese bilateral relationship and feel it has improved since the 2016 report despite the public negativity towards China expressed during President Trump’s election campaign. More than half of Chinese respondents (65%) believe China will eventually become a superpower and replace the U.S.. Chinese respondents generally perceive isolationism unfavourably (82%), however, concern about a conflict between North and South Korea has markedly increased amongst Chinese respondents (64%).
Indian respondents are the most optimistic about the U.S. with 61% believing that its best years are ahead of it. Strikingly, 53% of Indian respondents believe that India will have the most influence in Asia in the next 10 years, contrasting with the views of Japan (15%), Australia (6%), South Korea (3%), China (1%) and Indonesia (1%). More than half of Indian respondents (52%) feel that the U.S. does more good than harm, should increase its military presence in Asia (53%) and has a positive influence on India (65%). In contrast, 48% of Indian respondents feel that China generally does more harm than good in the region and has a negative influence on India (46%). However, 47% also feel that ties between India and China should be stronger. Indian respondents were generally conscious of an intensification in U.S.-China competition characterising that relationship by fear (77%), and many feel that a U.S.-China conflict (40%) was more likely than a conflict in the Korean Peninsula (37%), although Indians still rated an Indian-Pakistan conflict as more likely (55%). There was a 50-50 split with Indian respondents believing that India would be better off ‘staying home’ and not concerning itself with problems in other parts of the world, in contrast with China (18%) and Korea (23%). Indian respondents also have concerns about immigration and its impact on employment (42%) and culture (41%) and feel strongly that being born in India (78%), having respect for Indian institutions (77%) and ‘feeling Indian’ are of utmost importance (78%).
More Indonesians feel that President Trump will have a negative influence on the region (44%) than a positive influence (29%). China (58%) has overtaken the U.S. (46%) as the country with most current influence in Asia according to Indonesian respondents as well as having the most influence in 10 years’ time, although respondents had a generally positive view on the influence the U.S. has on Indonesia (40%). The threat from Islamic extremism (31%) has replaced ‘China’s increasing economic power’ (0%) as America’s greatest challenge according to Indonesian respondents. The majority of Indonesian respondents (67%) believe there will be a serious military conflict between the U.S. and China. An even greater majority (73%) believe there will be a serious military conflict between the U.S. and Russia. Less than half of Indonesians surveyed (45%) also see a conflict between Indonesia and Australia as ‘likely’, significantly higher than Australians perception (25%) of an Australia-Indonesia conflict. Indonesian respondents feel closest to Saudi Arabia (47%) and that Malaysia is the most hostile towards them (41%). Indonesian respondents are highly concerned about the effects of immigration stealing Indonesian jobs (97%) although the notable majority (74%) do not feel Indonesia should isolate itself from problems in other parts of the world.
Japanese respondents perceive China and Japan to have the most influence in Asia today (42% and 41% respectively) with a significant decrease in the perception of American influence (decreased by 34% from previous survey). A greater proportion of Japanese respondents see U.S. domestic issues, particularly its domestic economy (15%), internal political division (19%) and racial and ethnic divide (22%), as more challenging to America than China’s increasing military (17%) and economic power (7%). A notable majority of Japanese respondents do not believe that China will overtake the U.S. as a superpower (78%) and Chinese investment in Japan is generally viewed negatively (71%).
South Koreans generally perceive China as having an increasingly negative influence on the region, as well as the decline of U.S. influence, especially under President Trump. There has generally been a rise in anti-China sentiment in South Korea with 60% of South Koreans perceiving China as having a negative influence – a 38% increase from the previous survey. However, half of South Korean respondents (50%) felt the relationship should be strengthened and that trade with China has a positive effect (45%). South Koreans generally view foreign investment in critical infrastructure unfavourably (75%) and also hold unfavourable views about China’s military expansion in the region (47%). A majority of South Korean respondents feel that the election of President Trump will negatively affect South Korea (70%) and expect the relationship between South Korea and the U.S. to be ‘bad’ (72%). South Koreans also think the Trump Presidency will not be helpful in addressing the situation in North Korea (72%) and most identify the development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and military provocations as the most serious threat to South Korea’s national security (68%).