19 November 2015
The Xi-Ma summit in Singapore was a well-kept secret. The first-ever meeting between leaders of China and Taiwan, on November 7, marked a watershed for the two bitter political rivals. But behind the historical thawing lay a broader message: China’s President Xi Jinping is implementing a vision for the emerging Asian giant’s new place in the modern world, as a shaper of the global order. This begins in its own backyard , the Asia-Pacific, including Southeast Asia.
In thawing with Taiwan, Xi has signalled a willingness to take untrodden paths of mutual accommodation, at a time when Beijing is realising that its rapid rise is beginning to generate widespread regional unease. Beijing is now softening its image to defuse tension and resistance, even as it controversially asserts itself on key strategic issues, the latest of which is its territorial claims in the South China Sea.
On the broader canvas, what Southeast Asia is witnessing is a new China, one that is more assertive, employing a three-pronged strategy of diplomacy, growing economic might, and military muscle. All major global platforms are being exploited for this push, from the United Nations to regional summits , and new ones added, such as the Xiangshan Forum, to rival the Singapore-based Shangri-La Dialogue. Beijing’s priority now is clearly its Asia-Pacific neighbourhood, which is in turn the emerging strategic epicentre of the 21st-century world.
It is against this backdrop that we should view Xi’s latest diplomatic foray into Southeast Asia, beginning with his recent visit to Vietnam and then to Singapore, on his way to this week’s crucial regional meetings , the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Manila and the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Kuala Lumpur , where China will be the player to watch.
… Yang Razali Kassim is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
RSIS / Online
Last updated on 19/11/2015