Majority of Southeast Asian economies wary of China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Here is a summary of the results of a survey conducted by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute which is affiliated with Singapore’s government.

As per the results of a policy survey by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute which is affiliated with Singapore’s government, 70% of responders opine Southeast Asian economies should be more cautious in negotiating projects related to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as it could potentially be a trap for unsustainable debt.

The survey also shows that Southeast Asian economies have also grown skeptical of U.S. commitments to the region as a source of security and as a strategic partner.

“The conventional wisdom that China holds sway in the economic realm while the United States wields its influence in the political-strategic domain will … need to be revisited in light of the survey results,” said ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

The survey polled 1,008 respondents from all ten nations from ASEAN with respondents drawn from government, academic, business communities, media and civil society.

Around 50% of the respondents stated, China’s flagship Belt and Road initiative would bring ASEAN “closer into China’s orbit,” while one third stated the project lacked transparency; 16% predicted that it would fail.

A huge majority opined, their governments “should be cautious in negotiating BRI projects, to avoid getting into unsustainable financial debts with China”; this view was strongest from Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

Already many countries in the West have accused China of placing associated with its Belt and Road initiative into a debt trap; China has denied the accusation.

Six out of ten respondents felt U.S. influence globally had shrunk from a year ago with two-thirds holding the believe that U.S. engagement with Southeast Asia countries have diminished.

Around a third said, they had little or no confidence in the U.S. as a strategic partner and provider of regional security.

Less than 10 participant viewed China as “a benign and benevolent power,” with almost 50% holding the view that China has “an intent to turn Southeast Asia into its sphere of influence”.

The authors of the study noted, “This result … is a wake-up call for China to burnish its negative image across Southeast Asia despite Beijing’s repeated assurance of its benign and peaceful rise.”

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