Skip to main content



Majority of Asean will choose US over China if forced to decide, survey shows

SINGAPORE — More than six in 10 respondents from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) said they would choose the United States over China if the grouping was forced to align with either power, a survey released on Wednesday (Feb 10) showed.

Majority of Asean will choose US over China if forced to decide, survey shows
Follow us on Instagram and Tiktok, and join our Telegram channel for the latest updates.

  • The percentage of those who favour the US grew from 53.6 per cent last year to 61.5 per cent
  • The increased support may be due to the prospect of elevated US engagement with the region
  • Japan ranks top for not only being the most trusted major power by Asean respondents, but also the most desired travel destination


SINGAPORE — More than six in 10 respondents from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) said they would choose the United States over China if the grouping was forced to align with either power, a survey released on Wednesday (Feb 10) showed.

This is an increase from last year’s survey, where 53.6 per cent were in favour of the US.

In contrast, only 38.5 per cent chose China, down from 46.4 per cent last year.

The survey, titled State of Southeast Asia: 2021, found that the US enjoys stronger support from the following Asean countries:

  • The Philippines (86.6 per cent)

  • Vietnam (84 per cent)

  • Singapore (65.8 per cent)

  • Indonesia (64.3 per cent)

  • Thailand (56.5 per cent)

  • Cambodia (53.8 per cent)

  • Malaysia (53 per cent)

The remaining three Asean members that chose China were:

  • Myanmar (51.9 per cent)

  • Brunei (69.7 per cent)

  • Laos (80 per cent)

According to the survey’s researchers from the Asean Studies Centre at the think-tank Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, the region’s support for Washington may have increased as a result of the prospect of elevated American engagement with the region under the new Biden administration.

The survey, which coincided with the US presidential elections, was conducted between Nov 18 last year and Jan 10 this year, and it canvassed views from 1,032 academics, policymakers, business people, civil society leaders, the media as well as regional and international organisations from the 10 Asean member states.

Now in its third edition, the survey is meant to be a “barometer of the general attitudes and perceptions of interested stakeholders” on important regional developments, the researchers said.


Other findings from the survey showed that the economic influence of both the US and China within the region has declined compared to a year ago.

Still, an overwhelming 76.3 per cent of the respondents regard China as the most influential economic power, a trend which the researchers said has been consistently held since 2019.

The Asian giant also remains the most influential political-strategic power in the region, although its percentage share dipped from 52.2 per cent in 2020 to 49.1 per cent this year.

The US gained some ground in this area, its vote-share climbing from 26.7 per cent last year to 30.4 per cent this year.

Respondents were also asked if they had confidence that China will do “the right thing” to contribute to global peace, security, prosperity and governance.

This year, 63 per cent of the respondents replied that they either had little confidence or no confidence. This percentage of distrust had increased from 51.5 per cent in 2019 to 60.4 per cent last year.

Explaining the region’s declining trust in China, the researchers said the Asian superpower’s economic heft, combined with its military power, is viewed by respondents as a potential threat to their respective country’s interest and sovereignty.

“The region’s best hope is for China to take the mantle of leadership in a manner that does not impinge on the sovereignty and strategic autonomy of its neighbouring countries,” said the researchers.


In terms of major powers that Southeast Asians trust, Japan emerged the top (67.1 per cent), followed by the European Union (51 per cent), the US (48.3 per cent), India (19.8 per cent) and China (16.5 per cent).

Not only has Japan remained at the top of the trust rankings, but it has also made a 5.9 percentage point gain from 2020, said the researchers.

They said that Japan’s soft power in the region “runs deep and strong”, adding that the country is seen as a responsible power that plays its part in upholding international law.

The researchers said that Japan “could potentially fill the leadership vacuum in a region increasingly forced into taking sides between the US and China”.

As for the EU, the researchers said it is widely viewed by many Southeast Asians as a “reliable, stable and responsible power that champions the rule of law, global governance, free trade, sustainability and climate change”.


How did Asean governments fare?

About three in five of Asean respondents said they approve of their government’s handling of Covid-19, with the strongest approval coming from Vietnam (96.6 per cent), Brunei (93.9 per cent) and Singapore (92.4 per cent).

In contrast, Filippino respondents (53.7 per cent) were the most disapproving of their government’s response, followed by Indonesia (50.4 per cent).

What could be done better?

When asked what their respective governments could do better to address the pandemic, 49 per cent of the respondents across the region said their governments could offer better financial relief and subsidies to those impacted by the coronavirus.

The researchers said both Brunei and Singapore stand out in their unequivocal support to “encourage more scientists and medical doctors to contribute to public policy discussions and heed their advice”, and “invest in early warning systems for pandemic outbreak and research and development for virus testing and vaccine development”.

Who showed the best leadership?

Close to 33 per cent of the respondents picked Singapore as the country that provided the best leadership to Asean, followed by Vietnam at around 31 per cent.


Unlike last year, climate change no longer ranks among the top three challenges that respondents said Southeast Asia is facing.

Instead, foremost on their minds are public health threats from Covid-19 (76 per cent), unemployment and economic recession (63 per cent) and widening socio-economic gaps and rising income disparity (40.7 per cent).

Only 37.5 per cent felt climate change ranked among the top three challenges.

Still, 53.7 per cent of Southeast Asians view it as a “serious and immediate threat to the well-being of their country”, a slight increase from 52.7 per cent last year.


The researchers said that Asean continues to express concerns over the South China Sea situation, with 62.4 per cent saying that they are worried about China’s militarisation and assertive actions.

This is followed by Chinese encroachments in the exclusive economic zones and continental shelves (59.1 per cent).

The third concern (45.2 per cent) is that US-China military confrontation may lead to a political crisis.

A large majority (84.6 per cent), said the researchers, want Asean to adopt a principled stand on the South China Sea that upholds international law.

More than four in five agree that a code of conduct in the South China Sea must be aligned with international law.


Japan remains the most desired holiday destination by not just Singaporeans (36.1 per cent), but by Asean residents in general (30.2 per cent).

As for preferred countries within the region, Thailand similarly ranked as not only the top choice for Singaporeans (43 per cent), but for the respondents as a whole (26.8 per cent).

The next two desired destinations are Singapore (25.5 per cent) and Vietnam (16.6 per cent).

Related topics


Read more of the latest in




Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.