February 9, 2023

Filipino Guardian

Sentinels of Filipino Free Press

China huddles on sidelines of summit to challenge US foreign work

REUTERS

When Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo sat down last week to watch a trial run of a new China-backed high-speed rail line, it was a clear sign of their growing economic commitment. “Begin,” was the command they gave as the train pulled out of a Bandung station.

Projects like this are key to Beijing’s strategy to compete with the US for influence in Southeast Asia as it seeks to solidify its position in a region that China regards as its largest trading partner. Two-way commerce grew 13.8% YoY in the first 10 months of 2022 to reach $798.4 billion. The spate of new infrastructure and trade deals signed at a series of summits over the past two weeks shows China is only trying to improve on this.

The following has been agreed:

INDONESIA

Mr. Xi and Jokowi, as the Indonesian President is known, signed deals on the fringes of the Group of 20 in Bali to strengthen cooperation in the digital economy and boost bilateral trade. China also pledged to encourage companies to support the development of Indonesia’s new $34 billion capital in Borneo and an industrial park on the island.

Jokowi, who referred to Mr Xi as a “big brother” when the two met, has approached Beijing to advance its ambitious infrastructure projects before his last term expires in 2024. China has been Indonesia’s largest trading partner for the past decade. Foreign investment doubled to US$3.63 billion in the first half of this year, according to Indonesian government data.

CAMBODIA

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang used his trip to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit on close ally Cambodia to forge more than 10 cooperation agreements with Premier Hun Sen. The agreements ranged from agriculture to infrastructure, education, traditional Chinese medicine and science technology.

The two countries also signed a US$1.6 billion deal to build an expressway from the Cambodian capital to the Vietnamese border. China has invested heavily in the country, including upgrading the Ream naval base on Cambodia’s south-west coast. This has raised concerns in the US, including from President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., about possible Chinese military activities there.

China is by far Cambodia’s largest trading partner, accounting for 43% of the nearly $3 billion investment it approved in the first half of this year, Xinhua reported.

THAILAND

Mr Xi was seeking greater “synergy” when he met Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-Ocha on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Bangkok on Nov. 19, under a deal to boost “Belt and Road” projects.

China said it wants to strengthen cooperation in trade, tourism and infrastructure, and cultivate new growth areas such as the digital economy, new energy vehicles and technological innovation. It also stressed the need to speed up China-Thailand-Laos railway cooperation.

SINGAPORE

China welcomes Singapore’s “deep involvement” in China’s “new development paradigm,” Mr Xi said during his meeting with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Bangkok, according to a readout. Mr. Xi also said efforts must be made to improve their bilateral free trade agreement and implement the previously agreed new international land-sea trade corridor.

In talks between their defense ministers, the two nations also agreed to hold joint military exercises next year and set up an inter-ministerial hotline. China has been Singapore’s largest trading partner since 2013.

PHILIPPINES

Mr Xi said China is viewing its ties with the Philippines from a “strategic height” and they should upgrade their cooperation quality after meeting Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. in Bangkok on Nov. 17. China also expressed its willingness to import more high-quality agricultural and other products, saying both sides need to properly manage differences over the South China Sea.

Amid the ongoing territorial dispute, the Philippines has also strengthened security ties with the US by agreeing to start building training facilities and camps at the country’s military bases next year. – Bloomberg