China Uses Money, Diplomacy to Push Back Against US in Southeast Asia

April 7, 2021, 06.32 PM
Hambantota International Harbor, a Chinese funded infrastructure project in Sri Lanka XINHUA/LIU HONGRU via DW INDONESIAHambantota International Harbor, a Chinese funded infrastructure project in Sri Lanka

Wang told his Malaysian counterpart last week that China would offer “high-quality” Belt and Road cooperation to bring more “tangible benefits” during the pandemic recovery, the Chinese foreign ministry website says.

“China just needs to deliver on its Belt and Road projects in all these countries and that’s enough to prevent the economies from going under,” said Alan Chong, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“The Chinese market was singularly unharmed” last year, Chong added. Much of the world economy was shaken by anti-pandemic business closures.

Southeast Asian countries will look to China more than to the United States for any help in working with one of their members, Myanmar, after a February coup and violent protests, Chong said.

Wang told his Singapore counterpart that China supports wider Southeast Asian efforts to “resume stability in Myanmar,” Xinhua reported. Chinese business interests in Myanmar go back decades.

Officials in Southeast Asia further hope China will reopen to travel, including for students, said Shariman Lockman, senior foreign policy and security studies analyst with the Institute of Strategic and International Studies in Malaysia.

Malaysia and the Philippines probably raised the South China Sea issue with Wang last week “because it’s one of those things that you have to mention,” Lockman said.

Diplomacy is partly form,” he said. “If you don’t mention it, he will think you don’t care about it and they can get away with things, so you have to say ‘oh, by the way.’”

The Chinese foreign minister for his part probably “soft pedaled” any past actions that make China look like a “great power,” Chong said.

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