Filipinos, other Southeast Asians do not trust China to do the right thing for global peace — study

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 17) — China received a "no confidence" vote from more than half of Filipinos when asked if it will "do the right thing" for global peace, with five more Southeast Asian nations saying the same, a survey found.

The State of Southeast Asia 2023 survey released on Feb. 9 showed around 62.7% of Filipino respondents have either "little confidence" or "no confidence" in China to "do the right thing" to contribute to global peace, security, prosperity, and governance.

Across the region, still nearly half or 49.8% of respondents had those sentiments, despite a slide in the percentage from 58.1% last year.

"Only 29.5% are either 'confident' or 'very confident' that China will step up to the plate," the ASEAN Studies Centre at ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore said.

Around 15.2% of Filipino respondents said they were "confident" in China, 6.1% said "very confident," while 16.2% had no comment — but these numbers were actually higher than last year's.

Aside from the Philippines, high distrust levels were seen in Myanmar (80%), Vietnam (78.7%), Indonesia (57.8%), Thailand (56.9%), and Singapore (56.3%).

"Among those who distrust China, 41.4% think its economic and military power can be used to threaten their country's interest and sovereignty," the study noted. "This view is shared strongly in Vietnam (65.4%), the Philippines (62.9%), Cambodia (44.0%), Malaysia (41.7%), Indonesia (35.7%), and Singapore (35.0%)."

Southeast Asian nations with high trust levels in China were Brunei (60.9%), Cambodia (53.7%), and Laos (43.9%).

Looking at other major powers, Japan remained the most trusted in the region with an overall trust level of 54.5%.

It was also the Philippines' most trusted, with around 75.7% saying it was confident that Japan will do the right thing for global peace.

Of those who said they trust Japan, around 41% believed that "Japan is a responsible stakeholder that respects and champions international law."

The survey also said the United States' popularity in the region continued to rise compared to China, with the European Union and Japan remaining as the top choices of respondents in hedging against the uncertainties of the US-China strategic rivalry.

"If ASEAN were forced to choose between the two major powers, two-thirds of respondents (61.1%) will cast their lot with the US. China as a choice dropped from 43.0% to 38.9% in 2023. However, when the respondents are assessed by nationality, majority of respondents from Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia will favour China over the US," they added.

For the survey's fifth edition, the ASEAN Studies Centre polled 1,308 Southeast Asian nationals affiliated with the academe, private sector, government, civil society, and regional or international groups from Nov. 14, 2022 to Jan. 6, 2023. Filipinos comprised 7.6% of the total number.

The study devoted sections to Southeast Asians' perception of China as it was still regarded as the most influential economic and political-strategic power in the region, but researchers found significant declines in the percentages.

It also noted that at least 6 out of 10 said they were worried about China's expanding influence in the ASEAN.

Researchers mainly asked about the view of Southeast Asians on regional challenges and increased military tensions emerged among the top three concerns this year, associated mostly with disputes linked to China.

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For example, the possible outbreak of hostilities in the Taiwan Strait will destabilize the region, according to 43.3% of the respondents, while 28.7% believe that ASEAN countries will be forced to take sides.

Once it happens, 45.6% of them said their countries must oppose the use of force through diplomatic measures.

Around 54.5% of Filipino respondents also chose that option, with 20.2% saying the Philippine government must facilitate military support for Taiwan.

The survey also revealed that showing support for China is not an option for respondents from Indonesia, the Philippines, or Vietnam at all.

"A conflict over the Taiwan Strait carries the most immediate and serious consequences on the Philippines just by geographical proximity alone," the ASEAN Studies Centre said. "It is also the most likely US ally in the region to be asked to facilitate support for US forces."