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US beats China in soft power and popularity in Southeast Asia, giving it regional edge: analysis

- The majority of citizens in 10 countries examined trusted Washington over Beijing, especially in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam

- China is widely seen as a major economic power, while the US is perceived as providing significant traditional development aid

The United States enjoys greater soft power and popularity in Southeast Asia than China, presenting Washington a distinct advantage as the two giants face off in the strategically vital region, a comprehensive polling analysis released on Tuesday found.

A majority of citizens, particularly in the region’s most populous nations – Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam – trusted US policies and intentions more than China’s, according to the white paper by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. This gave the US the upper hand in cementing alliances on a range of issues or at least keeping regional states from aligning with Beijing to Washington’s detriment.

“Washington needs to be more attuned to how individual countries perceive their relations with the United States and China and shape its levers of engagement accordingly,” the 24-page report said.

Growing concerns about Beijing’s behavior and intentions create diplomatic and economic openings across the region, it added. “And Washington should advance a positive political, security, and economic agenda to meet the moment.”

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