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US-centered power balance shifting in Asia, says Australian research institute

President Donald Trump speaks in Utica, N.Y., Monday, Aug. 13, 2018, at a joint fundraising committee reception. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

SYDNEY, Australia -- The United States still wields significant power in Asia, but its diplomatic influence in the region has been weakened under the Donald Trump administration due in part to its trade policy, according to an Australian expert on Asia.

"In terms of the decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (free trade agreement), I think the Trump administration was quite detrimental to, at least exacerbated, what was already a point of weakness for the U.S. in Asia," said Herve Lemahieu, director of the Lowy Institute's Asian Power and Diplomacy Program, in an interview in late July with The Mainichi and other foreign media in Sydney.

Lemahieu led the Australian think tank's effort to put together the "Asian Power Index 2018," which shows the rankings for 25 countries and regions in Asia and other related countries in eight categories -- economic resources, military capability, resilience, future trends, diplomatic influence, economic relationships, defense network and cultural influence.

These countries were evaluated by 114 indicators, such as GDP, population, global exports and imports and other factors to uncover international trends.

According to the study, the United States ranks first overall with 85 points, followed by China with 75.5 and Japan with 42.1. Among the eight categories, the U.S. also ranked at the top for economic resources, military capability, resilience, defense network and cultural influence. The study analyzes the strengths of the U.S. are its defense alliances with seven countries in the region including Australia and Japan, its high currency values and large number of universities favored by Asian students.

On the other hand, in terms of economic relationships and diplomatic influence, the U.S. is losing its grip in Asia, the report pointed out. Lemahieu said, "You compete with China on an economic level and through economic diplomacy" through multilateral economic frameworks such as TPP.

With the change of power balance in the region, China exceeds the U.S. to rank first in economic relationships, diplomatic influence and future trends. The study explains that China's advantages are its "One Belt, One Road" cross-border infrastructure initiative, which boosts the chances of the Asian giant growing further as a trading powerhouse among its neighbors, and expanding its large domestic market. China's negatives include its aging population, boundary disputes and underdeveloped defense networks.

Meanwhile, the report places Japan in third position for its "smart power," using limited resources and developing the largest network of trade and culture in the region. Lemahieu commented, "Japan is an overachiever in all boxes." However, the country ranks ninth in resilience as it lacks mining, and sixth for future trends, based on the study's forecast that Japan's working-age population will decline by 8.16 million between 2015 and 2030, while GDP is expected to grow by 12 percent between 2016 and 2030.

Lemahieu also said that for countries with mature economies such as Japan, Australia and South Korea, it is important to continue "punching above their weight," while adjusting to economic advancements by developing countries.

(By Richi Tanaka, The Mainichi staff writer)

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