Thai and Lao people see China having greatest economic influence: survey

SUNDAY, MAY 19, 2024

A great majority of people in Thailand and Laos view China as having the most significant economic influence on ASEAN, outpacing the United States by more than five times, according to a report published in Singapore. 






It was also the first time since the survey began that people in ASEAN picked China over the US if forced to take sides.

The ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore released its annual report titled "State of Southeast Asia 2024" in April, after surveying opinions from nearly 2,000 people representing five groups across the 10 ASEAN countries.

The report revealed that in a survey on the economic influence of major powers on ASEAN, 70.6% of Thai people believed that China had the most economic influence on ASEAN, behind Laos, where 77.5% expressed the same opinion.

Laos and Thailand are the only two ASEAN countries that attributed more than 70% of economic influence to China, significantly outpacing other major powers in terms of economic influence in the region, such as the US, Japan, and the European Union. The US is perceived to have an economic influence of only 8.1% and 11.4%, respectively.

While similar views were held in other ASEAN countries, the exception was the Philippines, where China’s economic influence was seen at 30.7%, slightly ahead of the US at 27.9%.

Even though the sample group in Thailand believes that China has the greatest economic influence on ASEAN by a wide margin, when asked about their "approval/concern" regarding this influence, 80.3% of Thais expressed concern compared to 19.7% who expressed approval. This sentiment aligned with Laos, where the proportions were: 72.7% “concerned” and 22.6% approve.

When asked about their decision if they were forced to choose between China and the US, 50.5% of respondents chose China and 49.5% the US. This is the first time in five years since the inception of the annual report that China has edged out the US in the response to this question, the institute said.

The survey, conducted between January and February of this year, also represents a significant shift in ASEAN public opinion compared to the previous year, when 61.1% of respondents chose the US and only 38.9% chose China.

One of the main factors driving most ASEAN countries to increasingly turn towards China is Beijing’s large-scale policies, investment projects, and economic cooperation agreements in the region, the report said.

In 2022, Doublethink Lab, in collaboration with the “China in the World” network, unveiled the results of the China Index, which found that "Thailand ranked fourth among countries most influenced by China globally, behind Pakistan, Cambodia, and Singapore, out of a total of 82 countries/economic regions. The index was based on surveys of experts regarding various Chinese activities in each respective country."

In the "Indo-Pacific Power" report for 2023 by Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank, it was found that since 2018 the US has consistently lost influence to China in four key areas in the Indo-Pacific region. They include economic relations, military networks, diplomatic, and cultural influence. In that year, China led the US 52:48. By 2022, China had widened the lead to 54:46.