Monday, 7 November 2016

Embracing, Leaning & Tilting towards China

Update 13 Dec 2016: China should seize opportunity to reshape South China Sea order

After a series of visits by leaders of ASEAN states to China, China and ASEAN have found common agreement to prioritize economic cooperation and move forward. A golden opportunity has emerged: It is high time for China and its rival claimants in ASEAN to make major progress in the South China Sea disputes.

It's reported that officials and scholars from countries related to the South China Sea issue have met recently to discuss trust-building mechanisms, including nailing down the Code of Conduct, reshaping South China Sea order and the feasibility of joint cooperation on areas including anti-terror, climate change and protecting biodiversity.

US President-elect Trump's aggressive posturing against China has generated a lot of uncertainties in many respects, South China Sea disputes included, which have just quieted down after the tricky and stormy international arbitration process in July.

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Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea
FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2015 file photo, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak, left, talks with China's President Xi Jinping as they arrive for a family photo with other leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Manila, Philippines. Following Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent visit to China, Malaysia's prime minister is the latest leader of a state that claims territory in the South China Sea to travel to Beijing. Najib arrives in the Chinese capital on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016 for a six-day visit to the country whose claims to virtually the entire strategic waterbody overlaps with areas that Malaysia says belong to it. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)  (The Associated Press)

Following Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's recent visit to China, Malaysia's prime minister is the latest leader of a nation that claims territory in the South China Sea to travel to Beijing.

Najib Razak arrives in the Chinese capital on Tuesday for a six-day visit to the country whose claims to virtually the entire strategic waterbody overlaps with areas that Malaysia says belong to it.

Malaysia claims a swath of the South China Sea north of Borneo, along with islands and reefs, but has been relatively understated amid feuding among fellow claimants China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

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China factor in the Asean stage
Close ties: Najib shaking hands with Xi during a photocall at the Apec summit in Manila. Both leaders have held six meetings and three special dinners in the last two years. — Bernama

MALAYSIA has been very quiet on issues relating to the South China Sea (SCS) – Kuala Lumpur and several Asean nations, as well as China, have laid overlapping claims on it – but analysts opine Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is unlikely to change his pro-China stance anytime soon.

Malaysia’s position vis-a-vis China was captured in an Asean diplomatic U-turn on June 14. A special meeting in Yunnan between Asean foreign ministers and China’s foreign minister ended in confusion after Malaysia released – and later retracted – a joint Asean statement that expressed “serious concerns” over developments in SCS.

And according to foreign press reports, China had lobbied Laos – which is getting economic aid from the mainland – to dissociate itself from the report. This had made it impossible for Asean to take a joint stand on the SCS issue.

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Kuala Lumpur joins Manila in seeking closer relations with Beijing
During Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's week-long visit to China, the two sides signed a number of agreements and memos of understanding covering defense, energy and infrastructure. Sino-Malaysian ties are in the best period in their history, Najib said, adding that Kuala Lumpur will work with Beijing to boost cooperation in investment, railway construction, defense and education.

The visit has not only consolidated the traditional friendship between the two countries, but also highlighted Najib's special amicability to China, because Sino-Malaysian diplomatic ties were established in 1974 under the efforts of Najib's father Abdul Razak, then Malaysia's prime minister, and his Chinese counterpart Zhou Enlai.

Malaysia is now seeing its economic growth slow down. Najib, with his visit to Beijing, is also attempting to hitch onto China's rise to promote Malaysia's domestic economy.

related: Najib’s visit reveals feeble US rebalance

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Malaysia’s China pivot

The November 2 headline of this paper is similar to my title. The story states that Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak was on an official visit to China where he would sign a “significant defense deal” with them. This is a potential strategic shift as his ties with the United States fray over a corruption scandal. Razak’s move marks another potential blow to Washington’s pivot towards Asia. Two weeks ago President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, a long time ally of the US, visited China with an olive branch.

After taking office in 2009, Najib reached out to Washington and relations warmed following decades of periodic distrust. But he has increasingly leaned towards China as it became Malaysia’s biggest trading partner, especially after the eruption last year of a massive corruption scandal implicating Najib and a state investment fund (IMDB) he founded.

Billions are alleged to have been siphoned from the IMDB in a stunning international campaign of embezzlement and money laundering that has sparked investigations in several countries. The US Justice Department moved in July to seize more than $1 billion in assets it says were purchased by Najib’s relatives and associates using stolen IMDB money. The US Justice Department Filings said that a “Malaysian Official 1” took part in the looting. Malaysia has since admitted that official was Najib. The prime minister and IMDB denied any wrong doing.

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It's about being pragmatic, not geopolitics

Despite the sceptism, cultivating friendly ties with China serves the national interests of many countries.

It is a delicate balancing act.

As a stated foreign policy, Malaysia insists on maintaining friendly and balanced relationships with both the United States and China; in short, it is hedging in the interest of regional stability. This balancing act could mean, as some analysts say, keeping some distance from Washington (even at times going against its will), while managing the increasingly assertive Beijing rather than confronting it head-on.

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Diplomatic ties with China: PM Najib creates history - Annuar

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is creating history in diplomatic relations between Malaysia and China and not selling off the country, said UMNO Information chief Tan Sri Annuar Musa.

He said the strategic cooperation between the two countries would have a huge impact, including in the field of economy and trade, for Malaysia.

"The prime minister is with China in implementing the 'One Belt One Road' and 'Maritime Silk Road' initiatives which have an enormous impact on global economy and trade.

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China, Malaysia to work closely on infrastructure

China and Malaysia agreed on Thursday that bilateral ties are in their best period ever and that cooperation in the long term will be sought on regional infrastructure projects.

During their meeting in Beijing, President Xi Jinping told Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak that his guest had inherited the spirit of his father, Abdul Razak Hussein, the second Malaysian prime minister, and had carried China-Malaysia ties forward.

"The bilateral cooperation is in line with the fundamental and long-term interests of both countries, and we are willing to deepen the cooperation in all sectors to benefit the two peoples," Xi said.

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Najib hails China as ‘extremely successful’ as he looks to build ties
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak (centre) and his wife Rosmah Mansor (in red) meeting China’s President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Nov 3, 2016. Among the deals inked was Putrajaya’s first significant defence deal with Beijing. Photo: Reuters

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday (Nov 3) described his week-long visit to China as “extremely successful”, while Chinese President Xi Jinping said both countries are good partners who should further elevate their ties.

In his opening remarks during a meeting with Mr Xi at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, Mr Najib said he could be the first foreign leader to meet Mr Xi after the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Congress last week, and offered his congratulations to him for being conferred the title “core leader”.

“It’s very important that your strong, visionary and effective leadership has the strong support of the Communist Party because we believe that your leadership will propel China forward and the Chinese dream that you cherish will be fulfilled under your leadership,” the New Straits Times (NST) quoted Mr Najib as saying.

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KL, Beijing call for restraint in South China Sea

Mr Najib with Mr Xi at Beijing's Diaoyutai State Guesthouse yesterday. The Malaysian Prime Minister, on his 3rd visit to China since being elected in 2009, said that both countries are "good neighbours and friends that could be trusted".FOTO: EUROPEAN PRESS FOTO AGENCY

"Intervention" by external parties will not help solve the South China Sea issue, said China & Malaysia, 2 of the claimant states in the disputed waters.

In a joint press statement yesterday, both sides stressed that all claimant states should resolve their differences peacefully through negotiations in accordance with international law like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

"All parties should exercise restraint & avoid taking actions that will complicate matters or heightened tensions in the South China Sea," they said.

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On Duterte’s heels, Malaysia is the next Asian country to embrace China 
Protesters gather in support of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila on Oct. 21 after he announced that his country would separate itself from U.S. policies. (Jes Aznar/Getty Images)

Malaysia’s prime minister arrived in China on Monday with warm words for his hosts, a thirst for Chinese money and, for the first time, a promise of significantly closer defense ties with the purchase of Chinese naval ­coastal patrol ships.

Najib Razak called himself a “true friend” of China, determined to take their relationship to “new heights” — echoing the pro-China outreach by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte two weeks ago when he proclaimed a “separation” from his country’s longtime U.S.-oriented policies.

The twin nods toward China reinforce the regional narrative of American decline and China’s inexorable rise. They also showcase Beijing’s apparent ability to buy off rivals for disputed territory in the South China Sea, which China claims as its own despite strong objections from the Pentagon and U.S. allies in the region.

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Malaysia PM signs defence deal in tilt toward China

Malaysia and China signed a defence deal and pledged closer cooperation in the South China Sea on Tuesday (Nov 1), signalling a potential strategic shift by Premier Najib Razak as his ties with the United States fray over a corruption scandal.

Najib's week-long trip marks another potential setback for Washington's "pivot" toward Asia, two weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte of longtime US ally the Philippines visited China with olive branch in hand.

Meeting at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Najib and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang witnessed the signing of nine agreements spanning defence, business and other spheres.

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Malaysian PM to sign 'significant' defence deal with China amid US strains
Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak and China’s President Xi Jinping met in November 2015 and now plan to sign a range of significant agreements

Malaysia’s prime minister begins an official visit to China on Tuesday where he will sign a “significant defence deal” in a potential strategic shift as his ties with the US fray over a corruption scandal.

The week-long trip by Najib Razak marks another potential blow for Washington’s “pivot” toward Asia, two weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte of longtime US ally the Philippines used a visit to China to say it was “time to say goodbye to America”.

Malaysia and China will be finalising the first significant defence deal between the two countries during his visit, Najib told Chinese state news agency Xinhua, giving no further details.

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China-Malaysia Summit Marks New Test for U.S. Sway in Asia

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is visiting China this week, giving Beijing another opportunity to dilute the U.S.’s influence in Asia.

The two countries were expected to sign deals including a $13 billion, Chinese-financed rail line connecting Kuala Lumpur with Malaysia’s northeast coast. Malaysia’s New Straits Times newspaper reported late Tuesday that Malaysia would buy four coastal patrol ships from China, quoting Mr. Najib as telling Malaysian media that this was a “landmark decision.”

Mr. Najib met with Premier Li Keqiang Tuesday at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People and was due to meet President Xi Jinping later this week. The countries’ defense ministers, meeting on Monday, expressed a desire to expand cooperation, Chinese state media said.

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Malaysian PM Najib also tilts toward China

Malaysia’s premier on Tuesday began an official visit to China where he is expected to sign a “significant defense deal,” in a potential strategic shift as his ties with the United States fray over a corruption scandal.

The seven-day trip by Prime Minister Najib Razak marks another potential blow for Washington’s “pivot” toward Asia, two weeks after President Duterte of the Philippines, longtime US ally, visited China with an olive branch in hand.

Malaysia and China will be finalizing “the first significant defense deal” between the two countries during his visit, Najib told the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua.

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Stop ‘Lecturing’, Najib Razak Tells West as Malaysia Embraces China
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak and China’s Premier Li Keqiang. Credit: Jason Lee/Reuters

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that former colonial powers should not lecture countries they once exploited on their internal affairs, a Chinese newspaper reported on Wednesday, in a veiled attack on the West as he looks to strengthen ties with China.

Najib‘s visit to Beijing follows that of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who announced a “separation” from the US and signed a raft of memoranda of understanding for Chinese investment in the country.

Najib, who is on a six-day visit to China, said in an editorial in the state-run China Daily that larger countries should treat smaller countries fairly.

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Malaysia’s Najib Razak seeks closer military ties with China

Malaysia’s prime minister will explore deeper defence and economic co-operation with China on a state visit this week, at a time when concern is deepening in the west over Beijing’s attempts to dislodge Asian countries from Washington’s orbit.

Najib Razak’s trip to China follows a thaw in diplomatic relations between China and the Philippines, with President Rodrigo Duterte declaring his country’s “separation” from the US on a visit to Beijing this month.

Among Malaysia’s aims is the negotiation of a deal to purchase coastal patrol ships from China in what would be the first significant defence equipment contract between the two countries. If confirmed, the deal is likely to ruffle feathers among the US and its allies.

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Beijing's influence to rise as Malaysian PM Najib Razak seeks lucrative deals in China

Malaysia's scandal-hit Prime Minister is expected to secure defence deals and multibillion-dollar projects during a six-day visit to China that is likely to further strengthen Beijing's influence in south-east Asia.

China is rolling out the red carpet for Najib Razak and a delegation of Malaysian businesspeople and officials. It comes two weeks after controversial Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared a "separation" from the United States and closer ties to Beijing during a visit to China, rattling Washington and its allies across Asia and the Pacific, including Australia.

Mr Najib, a one-time golfing buddy of US President Barack Obama, has long been seen as a trusted Washington ally, having pushed hard for Malaysia to approve the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

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Malaysia to buy navy vessels from China in blow to U.S.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak talks to the media beside Indonesia's President Joko Widodo after a bilateral meeting at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Malaysia will sign a contract to purchase Littoral Mission Ships from China when Prime Minister Najib Razak visits Beijing next week, according to a Facebook posting by the country's Ministry of Defence.

The text of a speech to be delivered by Malaysian defense minister Hishammuddin Hussein was posted on Facebook on Tuesday, but was later removed after Reuters asked a defense ministry spokesman for comment.

The purchase of the patrol vessels, if it proceeds, would be Malaysia's first significant defense deal with China and comes amid rising tensions in the South China Sea and as the United States and China compete for influence in the region.

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China to fund and build Malaysian east coast link
Malaysia's land transport commission SPAD has yet to confirm if the East Coast Rail Link would be built to 1 000 mm gauge, as used by the rest of the country's main line network with the exception of a standard gauge line serving Kuala Lumpur International Airport

The government is planning to start construction of the 538 route-km East Coast Rail Link next year once agreements for funding have been agreed with China.

Speaking to local media at the start of an official visit to China on October 31, Treasury Secretary-General Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah said that he expected to sign agreements during his trip for China ExIm Bank to fund the railway, while an engineering, procurement and construction contract has been agreed with China Communication Construction Co. Once these contracts have been formally approved, expected by the end of the year, construction of the railway could begin, Abdullah said.

The railway is being developed as a means to enhance transport links between northeastern Malaysia and the Kuala Lumpur region. Running through the country’s mountainous interior, ECRL would meet KTMB’s existing metre-gauge railway at Mentakab before reaching the coast at Kuantan. It would then run north along the coast to serve Kerteh, Kota Bharu and Tumpat, close to the Thai border. It would closely follow the alignment of the moribund 77 km freight railway between Kuantan and Kerteh, over which operations ceased in 2010.

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China to construct East Coast railway in Malaysia

The ambitious 620 km rail line will be funded by China, and is expected to cost around RM55 billion.

The construction of the 620 km East Coast Rail link in Malaysia is expected to start as early as 2017, with funding and labour to be provided by two firms linked to the Chinese government, reported Bloomberg, citing a senior Putrajaya official.

Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah, Secretary General to the Treasury of Malaysia’s Ministry of Finance, said the financing agreement for the ambitious project will be inked with the Export-Import Bank of China, while the building contract is set to be awarded to China Communications Construction Co (CCCC) during Prime Minister Najib Razak’s visit to the country this week.

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China-Malaysia Plan Third Port Klang Terminal

In a bid to handle the increase in shipping activity in the region, China and Malaysia are currently in talks to build a third terminal at Port Klang, which has also been proposed in response to China’s One Belt, One Road plan, according to Free Malaysia Today.

This follows news that China and Malaysia were to announce a collaboration project with Malaysia for two key ports in both countries.

The initiative is set to open up more business opportunities between both Port Klang and China’s Lianyungang Port.

Port Klang aims for top ten position
China Launch World-First Shipping Route

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Duterte leans toward China

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday tilted further toward closer ties with Beijing, as he continued his attacks on Western powers and the United Nations in what an analyst said was an effort by the President to correct the notion that Manila was too close to Washington.

While proclaiming a “neutral foreign policy,” Duterte said he might visit China more often to discuss issues related to the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), including fishing rights for Filipinos in the disputed waters.

“You will see me more often in China … One of the things that I would demand if I go to mainland China is: ‘Give us back our fishing rights.’ That’s one. Ma-negosyo ‘tong pobre kong mga kababayan [So our poor countrymen can make a living],” he said in a speech during the inauguration of a power plant in Misamis Oriental.The President also hinted that he might propose a joint venture between China and the Philippines involving gas resources in the disputed waters, repeating a plan he had mentioned during his presidential campaign.

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Philippines president Duterte says 'time to say goodbye' to America
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte during his visit to China where he said it was time to say goodbye to the United States. Photograph: How Hwee Young/EPA

President Rodrigo Duterte met with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping Thursday, state media said, as the Philippines’ leader seeks closer ties with the Asian giant while blasting his US allies.

Duterte is in China for a four-day trip that is expected to confirm his tilt away from Washington and towards Beijing’s sphere of influence.

The two leaders were to hold official talks and sign a “series of cooperation documents”, the official Xinhua news service reported.

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Tracing the roots of Duterte's anti-US stance
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attends Philippines Economic Forum in Tokyo on Oct.26. © Reuters

Another week, another rant from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who continued his anti-U.S. tirade while in Japan last week. The remarks are unlikely to affect the tremendous popularity Duterte enjoys at home, but will add to growing international concerns.

The U.S. withdrew its military installations from the country by 1992, due in part to local resentment. With the U.S. presence in Asia changing, China has stepped up maritime expansion in the region.

In 2014, the U.S. and the Philippines concluded an agreement to bolster the two countries' military alliance, effectively paving the way for the return of U.S. troops to the Philippines.

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Rodrigo Duterte: A Bull in a China Shop (And the U.S., Australia and Others Will Have to Pick Up the Pieces)

In announcing a separation from the US, the Philippine’s President Duterte recently flagged a closer relationship with China, stating, "America has lost…I’ve realigned myself in your [China’s] ideological flow." Although Duterte subsequently walked back from his position, the perception is emerging that the Philippines under Duterte is at best charting a more independent path, and at worst, decisively aligning with China.

On the South China Sea, Duterte indicated that he’ll put aside the outcome of the Arbitral Tribunal and engage with Beijing bilaterally. In an apparent quid pro quo, Chinese Coast Guard vessels have left the Scarborough Shoal. This implies reward for Manila for aligning itself with Beijing. The risk is other ASEAN states will seek similar benefit, further undermining the already fragile ASEAN unity. Beijing already has enough influence over Laos and Cambodia to make consensus over ASEAN joint communiqués on the South China Sea impossible. Having the Philippines in its pocket would allow Beijing’s to divide and weaken ASEAN, and the Philippines’ leadership of ASEAN in 2017 could further enhance Beijing’s influence.

Duterte also suggested reviewing the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which allows the US regular access to five Philippines bases under the 2011 Manila Declaration. Even if EDCA survives, an unpredictable and hostile Duterte, motivated by a lifetime of personal resentment towards America, could cause severe problems for Washington. His threats to end joint US–Filipino naval patrols and US Special Forces operations against Islamist groups in Mindanao would sour relations even further. Purchasing Russian and Chinese military hardware would probably end the US–Philippines defense relationship. It would certainly tear a hole in the Obama’s rebalance to Asia.

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'It's time to say goodbye': Rodrigo Duterte dismisses US to embrace China

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has declared it is "time to say goodbye" to the United States as he steered his country towards Beijing's sphere of influence during a red-carpet state visit to China.

"No more American influence. No more American exercises. It's time to say goodbye, my friend. Your stay in my country was for your own benefit," Mr Duterte said, referring to his country's long alliance with the US, its former colonial power.

"I will not go to America anymore. I will just be insulted there," he added, before once again referring to US President Barack Obama as the "son of a whore".

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Indonesia leans toward China
Say cheese!: Chinese President Xi Jinping (seventh from left in front row) poses with G20 leaders, including Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (second left, front row), and other invited guests for a group photo in Hangzhou, China, on Sunday. World Leaders are gathering in Hangzhou for the 11th G20 leaders summit from Sunday to Monday. (AFP/Greg Baker)

Ten million Chinese tourists are expected to visit Indonesia and Chinese billionaire Jack Ma has been invited to give advice to Indonesia’s e-commerce committee — both signs that Indonesia is looking to cash in on its relationship with the world’s second-largest economy.

The Indonesian government has asked Jack Ma, the chairman of Chinese online marketplace Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., to become an advisor to its steering e-commerce committee. The committee is designed to develop the booming e-commerce sector and will consist of 10 ministers.

“This [proposal] is to make Indonesia’s position in the international marketplace more prominent,” Communications and Information Minister Rudiantara said after President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s visit to Alibaba’s office in Hangzhou last weekend.

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Indonesia 'leaning towards China over Japan' to build nation’s first high-speed railway

Indonesia is leaning towards China over Japan in an aggressive bidding battle to build the Southeast Asian nation’s first high-speed railway, two government sources involved in making the decision said.

The two Asian giants have both sent envoys to lobby Indonesian officials over the past two weeks, each sweetening the terms of their bid for the contract worth about US$5 billion.

Analysts believe that whoever wins will likely become the front runner for other high-speed rail projects coming up in Asia over the coming years, including one linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

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Jokowi Leans on China, Central Bank to Revive Indonesia GDP

Indonesia President Joko Widodo is confident that more Chinese infrastructure loans and lower borrowing costs can help him reach a 7 percent growth target, rebuffing critics who doubt his ability to revive Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

The country is relying on investors and state-owned companies to fund 70 percent of its infrastructure needs, and wants a third of that from the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the president, known as Jokowi, said in an interview. The government is aiming for 5.3 percent economic growth this year, well short of the goal set by Jokowi upon taking office in 2014.

“I still have four years to achieve that,” Jokowi told Bloomberg Television on Thursday after inspecting a toll road project on the island of Sumatra. “If infrastructure is going on, and industry, and manufacturing, and tourism is promoted well, then it will begin showing by the fourth and fifth year.”

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Is Indonesia on a fast train to Beijing under Joko Widodo?
A system under stress: Indonesia has plans for a major railway upgrade. Dita Alangkara

A visit to Jakarta wouldn't be complete without stories about transport madness in a city on the way to a fifty million population by mid century.

One Australian family took a breezy two hour drive out towards the mountains on the way to neighbouring Bandung recently only to spend more than seven hours coming back. Next month Bandung – once known as the Paris of Java for its cool climate, history and cultural life – will start building ski-lifts to get people between tourist sites so they don't spend all day in the traffic.

This might explain why there is a resigned forebearance afoot about the way President Joko Widodo has dealt with the most geopolitically significant infrastructure project in Asia this year: the Jakarta to Bandung fast train.

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Vietnam: putting the ‘china’ in Indochina
The Imperial City at Hue, Vietnam

I spent last weekend at a beach resort in the central Vietnamese town of Lang Co, where I thoroughly enjoyed the beach, the food and the company of good friends. A highlight of the holiday was the day trip to the Imperial City at Hue, the for­mer capital of Vietnam’s Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945). It was at this palace complex, still undergoing restoration, where the last emperor of Vietnam, Bao Dai, abdicated on August 25, 1945.

Culturally, the Vietnamese are an anomaly in Southeast Asia, being the only Sinicised people in a region profoundly influenced by the Indian and, later, Islamic civilisations – it is, as it were, the “china” in “Indochina”. Northern Vietnam was, during several long periods in history, formally a part of the Chinese empire.

Despite their fierce resistance to their Chinese over­lords and eventual independence, the Vietnamese were much enamoured by the Chinese and adopted many aspects of the latter’s political system, culture and language. For example, Chinese loan words account for about a third of the Vietnamese lexicon and in formal writing, these loan words may form some 60 per cent of the text. The southward push of the Sinicised Vietnamese to present-day southern Vietnam, aggressively displacing the native Cham people and their Hindu and Islamic kingdoms over a few centuries, mirrored the Han Chinese colonisation of southern China.

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Vietnam, China beef up defence ties

China wants to deepen result-oriented defence cooperation with Vietnam, stated Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan during his meeting with Vietnam’s Deputy Defence Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh in Beijing on November 2.

Vinh is leading a senior military delegation to the sixth Vietnam-China defence strategic dialogue slated for November 4 in China. At the meeting, Chang Wanquan acknowledged good outcomes of bilateral defence ties over the recent past, including the organisation of strategic dialogues, delegation exchanges, personnel training and sharing of experience on UN peacekeeping activities.

China is planning to replicate the model of annual border defence friendship exchange with Vietnam in its relations with other countries, he noted.

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China, Vietnam Vow to 'Maintain Peace, Stability' in South China Sea
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Sept. 12, 2016

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc officially started his high-profile visit with Chinese officials in Beijing Monday, amid simmering tension over the territorially-contested South China Sea issue.

The first official visit to China by a Vietnamese premier in six years, Phuc’s trip came at the invitation of Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang. Vietnamese and Chinese media are reporting that Phuc and Li jointly pledged to "manage maritime differences" and "maintain peace and stability" at a Monday news conference that followed wide-ranging talks at the Great Hall of the People.

Phuc's visit coincides with the launch of annual Sino-Russian naval drills, which, according to Chinese military officials, will include simulated "seizure and control" of contested islands and shoals. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the training exercises aren't "against any third party.”

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China, Vietnam vow to properly manage maritime differences

China and Vietnam pledged on Monday to properly manage maritime differences and further enhance bilateral substantial cooperation.

The pledge came as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang held talks with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who is paying an official visit to China starting Saturday.

During the talks held at the Great Hall of the People, Li told Phuc the South China Sea issue is related to territorial sovereignty, maritime interests as well as national sentiment.

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China, Vietnam militaries to consult as ties strengthen

The 9th Defense and Security Consultation between the defense ministries of China and Vietnam will be held in Chengdu, capital city of Southwest China's Sichuan Province, on November 4, Colonel Wu Qian, spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense, told a regular press conference on Thursday.

Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission, and General Nguyen Chi Vinh, deputy defense minister of Vietnam, will co-host the consultation. Both sides will exchange in-depth views on such issues of common concern as the regional and international situation and military-to-military relationships, according to Wu.

Defense and security consultation between the defense ministries of China and Vietnam started in 2005, and stalled for three years between 2007 and 2009.

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Vietnam province proposes high-speed rail link with China

The administration of a northern Vietnamese province bordering China has called on the government to consider its plan to build a new high-speed railway, compatible with the rail in the Chinese province of Guangxi. Lang Son Province is currently connected with the capital Hanoi via the Hanoi – Dong Dang railway, which was put into use in May this year.

Despite the modernized rail system, the Lang Son administration wants a brand new high-speed service, saying it is essential to help improve the province’s transportation capacity and make it easier to connect with China.

The administration has submitted a document to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, calling on him to urge the Ministry of Transport and relevant agencies to “consider and soon implement a high-speed rail plan.”

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Chinese naval ships set for first visit to Vietnam's Cam Ranh international port

Vietnam will receive three Chinese warships from Saturday at its newly-opened Cam Ranh international port, a provincial government official said on Thursday, following a similar visit by U.S. vessels last month.

The visit will run from Saturday until October 26, an official of the external relations department of Vietnam's central province of Khanh Hoa, where the port is located, told Reuters. The official, who declined to be identified because of lack of authorization to speak to the media, gave no further details.

The visit will be the first by Chinese navy ships to Cam Ranh, state-controlled news website VnExpress said, adding that 750 Chinese military personnel would participate in activities with Vietnam's navy.

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Cambodia Turns to China Amid Rice Woes

Cambodia is once again turning to China for an early implementation of a new rice purchase pact and a loan agreement amid falling prices, a senior government official from the Southeast Asian state said Monday.

Agriculture continues to be an engine of economic growth in Cambodia, with nearly 80 percent of Cambodians living in rural areas and over 70 percent relying on agriculture, fisheries, and forestry for their livelihoods. Rice is a major part of this, with Cambodia being one of the world’s leading exporters.

Yet with rice prices plunging from around $250 per ton in August to around $193, the Southeast Asian state has been frantically trying to grapple with a crisis for the industry.

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Along the outskirts of Phnom Penh rice farmers have it tough. Prices have dropped by a third since August with targets of a million tons in exports failing to materialise, hurting producers like Path Chanthorn.

“Life is difficult. I borrowed from the bank to buy soil, seed and fertiliser,” the 47-year-old father of three said. “Then we lost all the rice and the family has no income.”

His plight has not been helped by late rains which have flooded his fields and upset planting for this country’s two million rice farmers who are now pinning their hopes on a two-day visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping ( 習近平 ). He lands here on Thursday.

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China agrees to help Cambodia overhaul its criticized judiciary

China is to help Cambodia revamp its judiciary, a system that opposition party supporters say is in thrall to Prime Minister Hun Sen, and that the United States has criticized as "politicized and ineffective".

The two sides signed a memorandum of understanding on Chinese assistance for Cambodia's courts this week, Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said on Wednesday, adding that China would provide training, finance and expertise. "There will be training and exchanges of visits between the two countries' officials, at a level up to technician and minister," Chin Malin told Reuters.

China would also provide expertise to improve Cambodia's commercial courts, he said.

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In the modern history of Cambodia, no country has loomed as large as China. Beijing wields pivotal influence on its smaller and poorer southern neighbor – from providing ideological inspiration and patronage for the Khmer Rouge and its radical revolution in the 1970s, to granting a home in exile for Cambodia’s deposed monarch, to offering investment and legitimacy to Hun Sen’s authoritarian state today. For Hun Sen, China’s “no strings attached” aid has helped war-torn Cambodia build a modern infrastructure, and diplomatic support from Beijing helps him fend off human rights criticism from the West.

At the same time, however, Cambodians are increasingly wondering if China’s footprint in their country is too big. Rural communities struggle with pollution and deforestation driven by Chinese resource extraction businesses, not all of which is done according to law, and farmers worry about their livelihoods as China’s expanding system of dams dramatically reduce water flows from the vital Mekong River. Cambodia’s Southeast Asian neighbors and fellow members of ASEAN complain that Phnom Penh now acts as a proxy for Beijing, dividing the 10-nation group on critical issues like the South China Sea.

This project aims to take a systematic look at the way in which Beijing has gained and continues to grow its influence over Cambodia. From military aid to infrastructure investment, to mining and logging and even to immigration, RFA’s Khmer Service will dig deep into this complex relationship.


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Thailand Pivoting Towards China, Under Junta Rule
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China

Historically, Thailand has been one of Washington’s staunchest military allies in Southeast Asia and could have expected to see that relationship blossom under US President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia.

But the May 2014 coup, the second in the last decade, and the junta’s subsequent rights crackdown has strained those ties. Meanwhile Thailand is doing a pivot of its own.

“The junta is obviously much more comfortable with China because they speak the same language and commit the same practices: authoritarianism,” said Puangthong Pawakapan, a Thai politics expert at Chulalongkorn University.

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China, Thailand pledge closer ties during Thai PM's visit
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (R) shakes hands with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Beijing, capital of China, April 17, 2012. (Xinhua/Zhang Duo)

Premier Wen Jiabao and his Thai counterpart Yingluck Shinawatra met in Beijing on Tuesday, vowing to forge closer bilateral relations.

China appreciates Yingluck's emphasis on bilateral cooperation and believes that her visit will further deepen mutual trust and promote bilateral ties, Wen said.

Yingluck postponed her China visit last year because of a serious flood in Thailand last October.

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China, Thailand joint air force exercise highlights warming ties

Thailand's military held an air show with China on Tuesday ahead of joint maneuvers in a sign of warming ties, but Thailand said it was not distancing itself from the United States which downgraded their military relationship following a 2014 coup.

Five Thai and Chinese military planes performed aerobatic demonstrations for assembled media, flying some 3,000 feet (900 meters) above ground at the Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, around 260 km (161 miles) northeast of Bangkok.

On Thursday and Friday, Chinese and Thai air forces will conduct their first joint exercises that China has said are aimed at increasing "mutual trust and friendship."

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A Thai Canal to Be Part of China’s Silk Road

It was an idea that first emerged in the 17th century; but it may take 21st century technology to turn it into reality.

The idea is to build a canal across the less-than-30 mile Kra Isthmus in Thailand – connecting the Andaman Sea in the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea.

The logic supporting the Thai Canal, or Kra Canal, is solid – ships would no longer have to go the long way around Singapore, through the pirate-infested chokepoint known as the Strait of Malacca.

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Thailand - China understands and hopes to see a united Thailand

China hopes to see peace and unity restored in Thailand as soon as possible, so the country can go back to being a leader in the region. It has also said it will not intervene in Thailand's domestic affairs.

Sihasak Puangketkeow, permanent secretary of the foreign ministry, said Beijing also wanted conflicting parties to get together and solve problems so the country can move forward. He was speaking after attending meetings yesterday with high-ranking Chinese officials, including deputy foreign minister Liu Zhenmin, as part of the second China-Thailand Strategic Dialogue. He also paid courtesy calls to foreign minister Wang Yi and State Councillor Yang Jiechi.

This is the first time that Thailand has held official meetings with the Chinese government since the military junta seized power in May. In a press briefing after the dialogue, Liu reiterated that China wished to maintain and strengthen bilateral ties, adding that Beijing regarded Thailand as a good friend and a strong partner. 

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China-Thailand Rail Project Back on Track With Cost Agreement
The two sides agree on the cost of the first phase of a key project in Beijing’s infrastructure ambitions in Southeast Asia

China and Thailand have agreed on the cost of the first phase of a planned high-speed railway project, thereby once again breathing new life into Beijing’s grand infrastructure ambitions in Southeast Asia, Thailand’s transport minister said Wednesday.

The two countries have been discussing the billion-dollar rail project for years, with the latest iteration since 2014 being two routes covering 873 kilometers (542 miles) running from southern China through Laos to Thailand’s industrial eastern coast. As I have stressed elsewhere, the project is central to Chinese broader infrastructure objectives under the One Belt, One Road which would see a railway running from Kunming all the way down to Malaysia and Singapore (See: “China’s Grand Plans in Southeast Asia on Track With Thai Rail Deal”).

Yet negotiations between the two countries on the rail project have been going on in fits and starts due to disagreements on various issues including costs.

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China’s Grand Plans in Southeast Asia on Track With Thai Rail Deal
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and other leaders at the 10th China-ASEAN Summit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Nov. 21, 2015 (AP photo by Vincent Thian)

In early December, China and Thailand finally signed a deal to build a multibillion-dollar railway line linking the two countries. If realized, the move has the potential to be not only a boost for bilateral ties, but also a feather in the cap of Beijing’s geopolitical ambitions in Southeast Asia.

The idea of a Sino-Thai rail project has been in the works for years, with the latest plans unveiled in December 2014 during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Thailand, alongside rice and rubber deals.

The rail agreement comprises two routes covering more than 530 miles and costing 350 billion baht, or about $9.7 billion, with the trains running at top speeds of up to 110 miles per hour.

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Thailand Expects More Investment from China in 2016

Thailand is anticipating more investment from China this year, Thailand’s finance minister said this week.

China is already a significant investor in Thailand: during the first nine months of 2015, Beijing invested more than 12 billion baht (about $4 billion) into Southeast Asia’s second largest economy, making it the fourth biggest foreign investor there according to the Board of Investment (BoI). But with Thailand’s economy struggling to take off, officials have been eying even more investment from key countries, including Beijing.

The government has declared 2016 a “Special Investment Promotion Year,” with a range of investment privileges designed to woo foreign investors. These include a double depreciation expense for acquiring new assets, a fast track for the approval of public private partnerships (PPPs), and several tax deductions and exemptions.

related: China-Thailand Relations

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China, Laos pledge to boost bilateral ties

Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks with his Lao counterpart Choummaly Saygnasone here on Monday and the two pledged to boost the relationship between the two ruling parties as well as the bilateral ties "no matter how the international situation changes."

During the talks at the Great Hall of the People, Xi lauded the China-Laos all-round strategic partnership featuring a high degree of mutual trust, mutual assistance and reciprocity.

"Currently, both China and Laos face the arduous tasks of reform, development and stability, and there have been many changes in the international and regional situations," said Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee.

China, Laos vow to enhance cooperation, communication
Chinese president meets Lao PM, vows stronger ties

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Xi says China to cement bilateral partnership with Laos

Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks on Thursday with his Lao counterpart Choummaly Saygnasone in the Great Hall of the People and pledged to further cement the all-around strategic partnership of cooperation between the two countries.

China and Laos, as socialist countries and friendly neighbors, constitute a community that share the same destiny as well as extensive common interests, Xi said during the talks, which followed a welcome ceremony for the visiting Lao president outside the hall in the afternoon.

Both China and Laos consider the bilateral relationship from a strategic and long-term perspective and give priority to the development of the relationship, no matter how the international situation changes, said the Chinese president.

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China's Rising Influence in Laos

The recently signed Joint General Scheme of Mohan–Boten Economic Cooperation Zone is the first cross-border economic cooperation zone that China has established in Laos and, for that matter, in the whole of Southeast Asia. The deal hints at the Asian giant’s goal to expand its economic ties with its southern neighbors.

Boten, a remote village on the China–Laos border, is positioned at a strategic location for China to extend its influence in Southeast Asia, as it connects two important transportation lines from China to mainland Southeast Asia. One is the Kunming–Bangkok Expressway, which starts in Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan Province, passes through Boten, then over the Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge, and finally arrives in Bangkok.

The other line is the China–Lao Railway, which runs from Kunming to Vientiane, a strategic location along the East–West Corridor that connects Vietnam’s Danang with Phitsanulok in central Thailand and Mawlamyine in Myanmar. While the Kunming–Bangkok Expressway was completed in December 2013, construction of the disputed China–Lao Railway project, possibly causing severe environmental problems in northern Laos, only began in December 2015.

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China, Laos to Build $6 Billion Railway by 2020

China aims to complete the long-awaited construction of a multibillion-dollar, high-speed rail project from southwestern China to Laos by 2020 as part of Beijing’s efforts to link itself to Southeast Asian markets, official sources confirmed over the weekend.

The two countries agreed Friday to build a 40-billion yuan ($6.28 billion), 418-kilometer railway from Kunming, the capital of southwestern China’s Yunnan province, to the Laotian capital of Vientiane, the official China Economic Herald reported following a signing ceremony attended by the National Development and Reform Commission, China Railway Corporation, and Export-Import Bank of China.

According to Chinese media sources, China will be responsible for 70 percent of the investment while Laos will be responsible for the rest. Once operational, the railway will the Laos’ longest and fastest, with an average speed of 160 kilometers per hour and 60 percent of the line being bridges and tunnels. It is part of a larger 3,000-kilometer regional railway that will run from Kunming through Laos and Thailand down to Malaysia and Singapore.

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China eyes closer military ties with Myanmar
Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (L) and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping (R) poses for the media before a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, August 19, 2016. REUTERS/Rolex Dela Pena/Pool - RTX2M0AQ

China's military wants to strengthen ties with neighboring Myanmar by having more exchanges and greater cooperation, a top officer told Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a visit to the Southeast Asian country, state media said on Saturday.

China has been on a diplomatic offensive ever since the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's government came to power in April, aiming to forge good ties with its resource-rich neighbor.

Last month Suu Kyi visited China, where President Xi Jinping told her he wanted to ensure the "correct direction" of relations.

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The success of Aung San Suu Kyi’s latest trip to Washington may mark a new chapter in Myanmar’s relations with the United States but the ongoing civil war in the country gives China control over crucial levers of pressure on its neighbour that the distant superpower can hardly match.

The warm welcome democracy icon Suu Kyi received in Washington reflects the US administration’s perception of Myanmar as one of its most significant foreign policy successes.

US considers further easing or lifting sanctions against Myanmar ahead of visit by democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi

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What’s next for Myanmar-China relations?
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, left, greets Chinese President Xi Jinping before a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on August 19. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was on an official visit meeting Chinese officials to boost diplomatic and economic ties. Photo: AFP

China and Myanmar have shared a geopolitically strategic 2185-kilometre (1358-mile) border since the end of World War II. During the great power politics of the post-war era, the leaderships of the two nations fine-tuned postures of neutrality and non-alignment throughout the Cold War. U Nu and Zhou Enlai, the premiers of the two nations, stood together at the forefront of the non-aligned movement.

But the relationship was hardly a model of shared-border brotherhood. While the Chinese Communist Party supported the Communist Party of Burma until 1989, General Ne Win’s Burma Socialist Programme Party stoked xenophobic anti-Chinese sentiment in then-Burma, despite the fact that he himself was half-Chinese by birth. While countless analysts of China-Myanmar dynamics have concentrated on the nonetheless enduring pauk phaw relationship between these two nations, early indications are that Myanmar’s state counsellor and foreign minister, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, will change the diplomatic equation once more.

Since assuming her dual roles, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has practiced pragmatism, sending signals that her country will be neither a satellite state nor a peripheral player in China’s regional rise.

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A New Chapter in China-Myanmar Relations

Last month, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, after taking office as State Counselor, deliberately made her first official visit to China, before visiting the United States. The visit to China is believed to be an effort to repair and strengthen bilateral ties between the two nations that had once had a much closer relationship. The term “baobo” (brothers and relatives) was often used to describe their level of closeness in years back.

Myanmar (then Burma) was the first non-Communist country to recognize the People’s Republic of China founded in 1949. In turn, China stood firmly together with Myanmar, even when its former military-run regime was isolated by the international community.

In recent years, bilateral ties have been strained especially during the recent transition period of Myanmar’s new government. However, this is likely to change for the better.

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China Woos Suu Kyi, Seeking a Fresh Start in Myanmar
Demonstrators opposed to a copper mine owned by Wanbao Mining faced off against the police in the town of Monywa on May 6. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Dong Yunfei, manager of a Chinese state-run copper mine here in the heat-baked center of Myanmar, says his company owes its success to an unlikely ally: Aung San Suu Kyi, the former dissident who is now the country’s de facto leader.

The mine, a symbol of the sort of Chinese links to Myanmar’s brutal former military junta that made it unpopular among the Burmese, was halted by villager protests in 2012. Now, it is yielding its first batches of copper after Mr. Dong’s Wanbao Mining embraced conditions set by a Suu Kyi-led panel for the project to restart, including working closely with the local community.

“We have had a turnaround in our situation,” Mr. Dong said. “Our charm offensive…has paid off.”

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China’s opening up won’t follow US roadmap
On a normal day in 1998, some fishermen off of Billiton Island on the east coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, dived into the waters to harvest sea cucumbers as they did every day.

What the fishermen harvested were not only sea cucumbers, but a stoneware jar covered with sea weed and coral. This marked a prelude to the most fabulous marine archaeological discovery ever made in Southeast Asian sea areas.

Four years ago I got a chance in Singapore to view these treasures salvaged from the wreck of an Arabian dhow called Batu Hitam that has been sunken for over 1,000 years. Among around 60,000 items are wares made of copper, porcelain and gold. A porcelain bowl bears an inscription of date "the 16th day of the seventh month of the second year of the Baoli reign," or 826 AD in the Western calendar. That was Tang Dynasty (618-907), the most open period in Chinese history.

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Can Beijing’s influence on the South China Sea break ASEAN?
China's navy conducting drills in the South China Sea. 2013. Asitimes / Wikimedia Commons

The four-day ASEAN meeting in the Laotian capital, Vientiane was supposed to resolve disputes in the South China Sea. Instead it ended up with the vaunted unity of the 10 countries left in disarray.

Cambodia rejected the wording on the ruling, again putting the association at the risk of chaos and division. And these multilateral wobbles are not the first. Just last month an ASEAN statement expressing, “serious concerns” over developments in the sea was released by Malaysia, only to be withdrawn within hours because of Laos’ support.

Failure of the communiqué - In their wrap-up of the Vientiane meeting ministers from the 10 member countries made no specific mention of the Hague ruling, saying just that they were pleased with the progress of ties with China. Although a careful reading of the final statement expressed concerns about tension in the South China Sea, experts said the issue was it did so without citing China by name.

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Shifting policy postures of Indonesia and Thailand: responding to the China challenge

China’s rise and the strategic uncertainty about its future intentions have compelled countries in Southeast Asia, such as Indonesia and Thailand, to adopt hedging strategies to deal with China’s rise. Since 2012, with China’s foreign policy shifting toward a more proactive and assertive policy posture, Indonesia and Thailand have exhibited divergent hedging responses: Indonesia has shifted toward the balancing end of the hedging spectrum while Thailand has shifted toward the bandwagoning end.

This thesis seeks to analyze Indonesia’s and Thailand’s hedging responses and the key factors that explain their different hedging preferences. This thesis contends that Indonesia’s and Thailand’s hedging strategies have shifted in response to a change in their ruling elites’ perception of benefits from an improved relationship with China, vis-à-vis their perception of China as a security threat. In both countries, domestic factors have also exerted an intervening effect on policy outcomes to different extents.

Indonesia’s hedging strategy reflects the compromise between enhancing Indonesia’s future security, addressing nationalistic concerns of defending Indonesia’s sovereignty, and gaining economic benefits. On the other hand, Thailand’s ruling elites have sought to politically and economically benefit from China’s rise in order to bolster their political legitimacy at home.

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Dominoes in the South China Sea

Are dominoes teetering again in Southeast Asia? The limitations of that metaphor were clear in the Cold War, and are even more so now given the region’s much greater geopolitical fluidity. Nevertheless, anxiety is mounting among the U.S. and its stalwart Pacific allies after the Philippines’ abrupt tilt toward Beijing. President Rodrigo Duterte’s kowtow from Davao suggests a wave of realignment could happen within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak is the latest Southeast Asian leader to be feted with red-carpet treatment in Beijing. In advance of this week’s trip, Mr. Najib confidently exclaimed that new heights will be scaled in Malaysia’s already strong economic relationship with Beijing, worth $56 billion in annual trade last year.

China’s planned investments in “maritime silk route” infrastructure astride the Malacca Strait are likely to receive a further boost during the visit. A Chinese firm has been awarded a $13 billion contract to build a new 620-kilometer east-coast rail link to Kuala Lumpur.

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Southeast Asia's New Dominoes
America's pivot to Asia is raising eyebrows about a new domino theory that counters China's rise. (Great Beyond/Flickr)

There will likely be no discussion of the 1947 Marshall Plan at the White House tomorrow during talks between President Barack Obama and Vietnam’s President Truong Tan Sang, but the U.S. strategy to support Europe and prevent the spread of communism would be a relevant talking point.

While the domino theory once feared the spread of communist ideology throughout Southeast Asia, the ongoing U.S. pivot toward Asia seems to be taking a wary view toward China and its economic and military influence in the region. The second visit by a Vietnamese head of state since 1995 is yet another signpost in what we might call “containment light,” and could be the start of a long-term partnership as both countries look to have counterweights to China’s rise.

The visit comes at a time when U.S. and regional impatience with China is growing. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is in Singapore this week to discuss the mounting tensions in the South China Sea region, after first visiting India, another crucial Asian partner.

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South China Sea Ruling May Trigger Domino Effect
Chinese official media and think- tanks are worried over a possible "domino effect" with surge in claims by other countries to press for their share of the South China Sea, a day after a UN-backed tribunal dealt a major blow to China's claims over the disputed maritime area

While the verdict striking down China's historic claims evoked strong comments in the editorials, the sweeping judgement of the tribunal appointed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration made official think-tanks to predict worst case scenarios.

"In other words, China should prevent other countries from following the Philippines," he told state-run Global Times.

In order to prevent a "domino effect," China has several options. For example, it should prepare for a potential military conflict by continuing to conduct military drills in the SCS, Beijing-based military expert Song Zhongping was quoted as saying by the paper known for its nationalistic views.

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China, ASEAN must cooperate on sea issue

The 49th ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting was concluded Tuesday in Vientiane, Laos, the first such meeting since the result of the South China Sea arbitration was released earlier this month. The scene that happened in Phnom Penh four years ago did not reoccur this year.

When Cambodia hosted the meeting in 2012, foreign ministers unprecedentedly failed to produce a joint communiqué because Cambodia objected to the Philippines' proposals to include the South China Sea disputes into the statement. They just issued a joint statement over the South China Sea issue a week later.

I was then reporting the 2012 Foreign Ministers' Meeting. Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong revealed that Cambodia objected to the communiqué draft proposed by countries including the Philippines because it included the China-Philippines spat over Huangyan Island. Cambodia believed at the time that this is a bilateral dispute and should not involve the entirety of ASEAN.

related: South China Sea arbitration

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What South Korea Thinks of China's 'Belt and Road'

If the 21st century ultimately fulfills its predicted destiny as the “Pacific Century,” future historians will mark 2013 as the watershed year in which the gravity of world power began to tilt toward the Asia-Pacific, and perhaps 2017 as the decisive year of the shift. In 2013, two major economic strategies to strengthen regional cohesion and global connectivity were announced: China’s massive “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) and South Korea’s “Eurasia Initiative” (EAI). While the former has clearly overshadowed the latter, the relatively tiny South Korea’s aspirations may ultimately hold the key to the success or failure of China’s grand vision because of the pivotal role North Korea plays in the destiny of both countries.

The genesis of both OBOR and the EAI is geography, from which the region’s strategic impetuses flow. As the Western world’s attention has increasingly tilted eastward, manifested in part by the U.S. “Pivot to Asia,” China, in contrast, has turned westward, as well as to its north and south. Not to be outdone, other regional powers have also readjusted their strategic compasses: Russia’s attention is increasingly turning south and east through its “Eastern Dream”; India is turning north and east through its “Act East” strategy; and Japan is turning to its west and south with its “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy.”

These geographic readjustments of strategic priorities are in great part a reaction to the U.S.-centric regional architecture based on the “hub-and-spoke” alliance system that has dominated the region since World War II. OBOR is China’s attempt to build an alternative regional architecture to support its own geopolitical objectives, first and foremost challenging U.S. leadership in the region and ultimately globally. OBOR also serves China’s nearer-term priority of reinforcing its own domestic stability by promoting security in extra-territorial regional neighbors through its economic and political influence.

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China Wants This Malaysian Port to Rival Singapore (And That’s Not All)
A tourist boat travels along the Malacca River

The Straits of Malacca have been a gateway for China for centuries in its quest for power.

A story blended from Malaysian history and folklore says an emperor sent a princess called Hang Li Po to marry the Sultan of Malacca in the Ming Dynasty, offering a ship filled with gold needles. He also sent a blunt message. “For every gold needle, there is a subject. If you can count the number of needles, you will learn the true extent of my power,” the emperor reportedly said in a letter.

Hundreds of years later, China is again seeking influence in Malaysia as it spreads its economic and military clout through Southeast Asia. It is investing billions in a $7.2 billion redevelopment that will see Malacca, long the haunt of Chinese traders, become a new deep sea port.

Singapore Stumbles on China's Road
China Frictions May See Singapore Miss Out on Belt-Road Billions

Despite strong historical and cultural ties to China, the tiny state of Singapore has found itself in Beijing’s crosshairs, in part for its stance over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. As other Southeast Asian leaders lined up to meet President Xi Jinping at a summit in Beijing this week for his Belt-and-Road Initiative, Singapore was represented by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

China views Singapore as being less supportive of Xi’s plan because unlike other countries that announced their leaders would attend without requiring a formal invitation, Singapore sought an invite, according to people familiar with the matter. They asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information.
“The cooler political relationship between Singapore and China could have ripple effects which influence economic and trade relations,” said Lu Jianren, a researcher at the China-Asean Research Institute at China’s Guangxi University. “Singapore has been less proactive to work with China while many leaders in the region showed greater enthusiasm that they want Beijing to be more involved in Southeast Asian growth.”
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. “I wouldn’t say we have major problems; we’ve had some issues and some incidents,” Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said of China, in an interview aired by the BBC in March.

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Update 20 Sep 2017: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang hopes for Singapore support in high-speed railway: Xinhua
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (left) speaks with PM Lee Hsien Loong during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, on Sept 19, 2017. FOTO: AFP

China hopes that Singapore will support Chinese enterprises that wish to participate in the Singapore-Malaysia high-speed railway project, Premier Li Keqiang said on Tuesday (Sep 19), according to state news agency Xinhua.

"China has cutting-edge, safe & reliable, cost-effective high-speed railway technology," Premier Li said during his talks with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Xinhua reported. PM Lee is on an official visit to China from Sep 19 to 21.

Singapore & Malaysia are building the 350km high-speed rail linking Singapore & Kuala Lumpur. Targeted to be operational by end-2026, the railway line will cut travel time between the 2 cities to 90 minutes.

related: China's rail ambitions run at full speed

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Premier Li hopes for Singapore support in high-speed railway

China hopes Singapore will support Chinese enterprises who wish to participate in the Singapore-Malaysia high-speed railway project, Premier Li Keqiang said on Tuesday.

"China has cutting-edge, safe and reliable, cost-effective high-speed railway technology," Li said in his talks with visiting Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Malaysia and Singapore have agreed to build a 360-km high-speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, which is expected to start operation by December 2026 and cut travel time to about 90 minutes. Singapore welcomes Chinese businesses to the project, Lee said.

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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang hopes for Singapore support in high-speed railway: Xinhua

During his meeting with Mr Li, Mr Lee said that Singapore welcomes Chinese businesses to the project. In an interview with Xinhuanet, Xinhua’s official website, last Saturday, Mr Lee said: “We hope to receive China’s proposals.”

“I think China’s bid will be a high quality one,” he added,  noting that the joint railway project is “very significant” for Singapore and Malaysia. He said China has advanced technology and rich experience in high speed railway construction and operation, boasting a domestic network of tens of thousands kilometers in length.

The Singaporean prime minister praised China’s high speed railway service for providing passengers with convenience and comfort. “Very convenient, smooth and comfortable,” Mr Lee recalled his previous experiences of taking high speed trains in China.

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Why China and Taiwan agree on the South China Sea

If there’s anything China and Taiwan can agree on, it’s that the contested scattered islands in the South China Sea are Chinese territory. But while China flexes its muscles to assert authority over the islands, making the maritime region into a geo-strategic hotspot, Taiwan has no such ambitions. When the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in July 2016 in favor of the Philippines against China’s claims, the Office of Taiwan’s president rejected the verdict in terms similar to Beijing.

The court found that China has no “historical right” based on its so-called nine-dash line map that encompasses nearly 90% of the South China Sea, including most of the maritime region’s islands. China responded by saying it would not abide by the ruling, which it hasn’t judging by its recent moves to militarize the various features it claims in the area.

Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), like the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland, lays claim to the same islands, which are also in whole or part claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

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China seizes US naval probe in South China Sea
China Arms Its Great Wall of Sand
The ‘One China’ policy
Playing the 'Trump' card against China
Embracing, Leaning & Tilting towards China
Singapore rebuts Global Times report on South China Sea ruling
TPP: Trump Pacific Palisades
Singapore And The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
Embracing, Leaning & Tilting towards China
Singapore as a 21st century maritime silk road
The "One Belt, One Road" 一带一路 initiative
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)
Singapore rebuts Global Times report on South China Sea ruling
Recent Developments in the South China Sea
UN tribunal on South China Sea ruling
South China Seas - The next world war
The Nine-Dash Line 南海九段线
Territorial disputes in the China Seas
Tension in disputed South China Sea
Tensions Running High In South China Sea
Tensions rise over East China Sea
Aircraft Carriers of China, India and Japan
Singapore-China-US Relations
"Singapore - US" Bilateral Ties
The Historic Ma-Xi Summit