Mapping Asian views of power, prosperity, institutions and identity

Mapping Asian views of power, prosperity, institutions and identity

Bonnie Glaser



Respondents in the United States and Japan felt strongest about the negative effects of a coercive cross-strait unification. (China Times)

With the continuing rise of Chinese power, much of Asia now feels caught between growing economic reliance on mainland China and dependence for security on the United States. There is perhaps no nation that faces this dilemma more starkly than Taiwan. Taiwan’s exports to China (including Hong Kong) account for over 40% of the island’s total exports, while China accounts for an estimated 80% of Taiwan’s overseas direct investment. In the meantime, the US remains Taiwan’s security guarantor from Chinese coercion or attack. Citizens from Taiwan and other Asian countries are acutely aware of these competing dynamics, but their opinions have rarely been studied based on hard data.

In an effort to better understand how Asian thought leaders and opinion makers think about some of the core strategic and economic issues facing their countries, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC, with the support of the China Times, MacArthur Foundation, Asahi Shimbun and Joongang Ilbo, conducted a survey in eleven Pacific Rim states of strategic elites-nongovernmental experts who are influential in the debate on regional and/or international affairs in their respective countries. The nations polled included Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Myanmar, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States. CSIS received a total of 402 responses from experts in these countries, who were contacted through online questionnaires. Some of the findings are surprising.

On Great Powers in Asia:

With regard to the balance of power in East Asia, a majority of Asian strategic thinkers (53%) believe that China will be number one in ten years. Only US allies Japan and South Korea expect the US to exert the greatest power a decade from now. Similarly, 56% of respondents predict that China will be their country’s most important economic partner in 10 years, compared to only 28% that identified the US.

Significantly, however, the region is ambivalent about China’s role and influence. China’s impact on regional economic development is seen throughout East Asia as very or slightly positive (79%), while its impact on regional security is viewed as very or somewhat negative (61%).

Among respondents from Taiwan, a slight majority (55%) believes China will wield the greatest power (only 45% chose the US), and an overwhelming majority (90%) expects China will be the island’s most important economic partner in 10 years. While 79% judge China’s impact on regional economic development as very or slightly positive, 58% consider China’s impact on security as very or slightly negative.

Asian strategic thinkers expect and prefer continued US leadership in Asia. Fifty-seven percent of respondents on average predicted persisting US leadership even if relative US power declines, with a majority of Taiwan respondents (55%) also choosing this option. South Korean and Japanese respondents were most certain of continued US leadership. Support for the Obama administration’s strategic rebalance to Asia is very strong (79%), although most respondents (51% on average) expressed concerns about the implementation of the policy, and suggested it is not resourced sufficiently. China was the only country in which a majority of the respondents viewed the rebalance as too confrontational toward China (74%).

Concern in Taiwan about Japan’s impact on regional security is higher than in most of the countries surveyed. Sixty-two percent of respondents from Taiwan believe that Japan has a very or slightly negative impact on regional security, which was slightly higher than Korean respondents (60%), and behind only mainland Chinese respondents (88%). This negative evaluation of Japan exists despite the April 2013 Taiwan-Japan fisheries agreement and the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Taipei and Tokyo in December last year on enhanced financial supervision and cooperation.

On Building an East Asian Community:

A section of our survey focused on what Asian strategic elites see as the challenges to true regional integration and creation of an East Asian Community (EAC). Taiwan elites were among the most supportive of the concept of building an EAC, with 97% in favor. This strong show of support from Taiwan could be a consequence of Taiwan’s long estrangement from participation in regional and international organizations.

Taiwan elites believe that promoting confidence and mutual understanding and preventing inter-state conflict are the two most important elements needed for the successful establishment of an EAC. The two least important factors to Taiwan respondents were women’s empowerment and common diplomatic policies.

Our survey also sought to identify potential challenges to community-building in East Asia. Failure to resolve territorial issues was deemed the greatest obstacle on average, with failure to resolve historical issues rated a close second. The third greatest obstacle on average was uncertainty about a rising China, led by respondents from Japan and Taiwan. Uncertainty about India’s rise was judged lowest by all polled.

On Peace in the Taiwan Strait:

A major takeaway of the survey is that preserving peace in the Taiwan Strait matters to the entire the region. Respondents were asked, “If Taiwan were reunified with mainland China through coercive means, what would be the impact on your country’s interests?” Seventy percent on average believed that the impact on their country’s interests would be very or slightly negative. The US and Japan expressed the most concern (93% and 96% very negative, respectively). Respondents in China were more negative than positive by a margin of 43% to 40%. Eighty-nine percent of those polled in Taiwan viewed a coercive takeover of the island negatively.

On Challenges to National Security:

Our survey also sought the views of the strategic elites on what they perceive to be the most imminent threats to their own national security. Economic and financial crises were judged to be of greatest concern on average, with respondents from Indonesia the most worried. Territorial and historical disputes were rated second on average, with South Korea, China, Taiwan, India and Japan expressing the most concern, in that order. Climate change was rated the third greatest challenge on average, led by India and Singapore.

Taiwan’s greatest concern is the possibility of a military attack on its territory. Thirty-eight percent of respondents from Taiwan are extremely concerned about a military attack, presumably by mainland China. South Korea, which faces an even more proximate threat from North Korea, notably is less concerned than Taiwan about a military strike. Perhaps this can be explained by US extended deterrence over South Korea under the alliance, whereas Taiwan has no legal guarantees that the US will come to its aid.

Respondents from Taiwan also expressed high levels of concern about natural disasters, health pandemics, territorial and historical disputes, lack of natural resources, and regional economic and financial crises. Most of these Taiwan has experienced first-hand, including natural disasters (frequent typhoons and occasional tsunamis), health pandemics (SARS in 2003), and regional economic and financial crises (in 1997 and 2008). Taiwan rightfully has concerns about territorial and historical disputes, as it has interests and claims in the East and South China seas.

Taiwan’s elites are less concerned about nuclear proliferation and the potential collapse of North Korea, where responses fell substantially below the mean. Concern in Taiwan about terrorism ranked lowest among all countries polled.

On Regional Economic Integration:

Support for regional economic integration is high throughout the region, although some institutions are seen as more important than others. Respondents on average ranked The Asia Pacific Economic (APEC) forum and the Group of 20 (G-20) highest with 82% considering them either very or somewhat important, flowed by the ASEAN Economic Community (81%) and the TPP (75%).

Given Taiwan’s relative marginalization from the regional economic integration process, it should come as no surprise that respondents from Taiwan believe that TPP and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are very important to Taiwan’s economic future, with 100% of respondents saying that both agreements are either very important or somewhat important. This positive response by Taiwan respondents was the highest among all the countries polled.

Support for APEC in Taiwan is also high — 83% view APEC as very important or somewhat important, putting Taiwan respondents just behind Singapore and Japan on this question. Ninety-three percent support the G-20, putting Taiwan just behind Indonesia and tied with Singapore. Taiwan respondents were also strongly in favor of a China-Japan-Korea Free Trade Agreement (87%), which exceeded the level of enthusiasm among elites from China, Japan and South Korea.

Bottom Lines for Taiwan

In many areas, responses by Taiwan’s elites trend closely with the overall averages, but Taiwan stands out with exceptionally strong support for economic integration and building an EAC. This is not surprising given that Taiwan’s citizens strongly desire to become more actively involved in regional economic and security cooperation.

While our survey did not seek to determine the views of other regional nations about the need to take steps to include Taiwan more deeply in regional economic integration and community building, we did query elites about the island’s security. Taiwan can be reassured by the fact that the region would be gravely concerned by Chinese coercion against Taiwan. This provides yet another incentive for Beijing to continue its policy of peaceful development in cross-strait relations.

(Bonnie Glaser is a Senior Adviser for Asia, Freeman Chair in China Studies and Senior Associate of Pacific Forum with the Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS].)


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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