Brunei Darussalam is ranked 18 of 26 for comprehensive power, with an overall score of 10 out of 100, according to the fifth edition of the Asia Power Index 2023 by Lowy Institute Asia. The position in the index measures a country’s resources and influence to rank the relative power of states.
The Sultanate gained 0.4 points (+4 per cent change) in overall score in 2023 making Brunei one of just six countries in the region to register an upward change in its overall score. This was largely due to a significant improvement in its diplomatic influence score, which rose three places to 15th.
Brunei’s increased diplomatic influence reflects positive expert opinion on its 2021 ASEAN chairmanship and the country’s greater diplomatic engagement, including on the issue of Myanmar.
Brunei performs best in the resilience measure, where it places 12th. This reflects its internal stability and favourable but declining energy trade balance. Its lowest ranking is in the military capability measure, where it comes in at 21st place.
Brunei exerts less influence in the region than expected given its available resources, as indicated by the country’s negative power gap score. It is a net underachiever in Asia, with its negative power gap remaining the same in 2022.
In 2023, Brunei had its only gains in diplomatic influence (+5.5). It lost the most points in defence networks (-2.3). It also lost points in resilience (-0.6). The scores for military capability, future resources, cultural influence, economic relationships and economic capability were unchanged this year.
The 2023 edition, which covers five years of data, is the most comprehensive assessment of the changing distribution of power in Asia so far. The fifth edition of the index ranks 26 countries and territories in terms of the power they wield in the Indo-Pacific region, reaching as far west as Pakistan, as far north as Russia, and as far into the Pacific as Australia, New Zealand, and the United States (US).
In 2023, the top 10 countries for overall power are the US, China, Japan, India, Russia, Australia, South Korea, and three ASEAN member states of Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand.
The Asia Power Index, launched in 2018, evaluates the balance of power in Asia through 133 indicators across eight thematic measures: military capability and defence networks, economic capability and relationships, diplomatic and cultural influence, as well as resilience and future resources.
The index for 2023 includes three new indicators based on primary research that track high-level diplomatic engagement between countries, enabling new comparisons of diplomatic and defence influence across Asia.
These new indicators quantify the number of bilateral and multilateral diplomatic dialogues at the foreign minister level and above held by each indexed country, along with their convening power – the number of visits by regional leaders or foreign ministers hosted by each country.
Despite their economic recoveries, countries in the region are still suffering from the COVID-19 impact, and Lowy Institute said most are less economically resilient than prior to the pandemic – have become more dependent on their leading trade partner, in most cases China.
“Only two index countries have higher comprehensive power scores in 2022 than they did in 2019. This means few powers are as able to influence the international environment in their favour as they were prior to the pandemic,” it said.
The report also said that Southeast Asia is more diplomatically dynamic than ever. Much commentary about the Indo-Pacific portrays Southeast Asia as having a weak centre of gravity, in which countries are unable to navigate rising major power competition or internal challenges such as the violent conflicts consuming Myanmar.
The Asia Power Index challenges this narrative, demonstrating the continued dynamism and influence of even small Southeast Asian countries. Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest country in terms of both economic size and population, maintained its position in the top 10 powers in Asia.
New indicators measuring patterns of diplomatic engagement show Indonesia, the country of 270 million to be among the region’s most diplomatically active players. Jakarta hosted the second-largest number of foreign leaders or foreign ministers in 2021, and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi is a sought-after interlocutor in Southeast Asia and beyond.
In 2022, Indonesian President Joko Widodo sought to play a role in mediating conflict between Russia and Ukraine and successfully hosted the G20 in challenging geopolitical circumstances. This greater level of ambition resulted in improved expert survey scores for Indonesia’s leadership at both the regional and global levels in 2022.