• D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG
rotating globe
  • D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
Semafor Logo
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG


Apr 2, 2024, 6:26pm EDT
Southeast Asia
icon

Semafor Signals

China’s growing influence in Southeast Asia

Insights from ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Nikkei, and The Diplomat

Arrow Down
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indonesia's President-elect Prabowo Subianto shake hands at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China April 1, 2024.
China Daily via REUTERS
PostEmailWhatsapp
Title icon

The News

China has made headway in its efforts to gain a foothold in Southeast Asia as it competes with the U.S. for influence in the region, according to surveys and experts.

Despite sparring with several Southeast Asian countries over maritime rights in the South China Sea, China has poured billions into infrastructure investments like rail projects and has expanded its security partnerships.

AD
icon

SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

ASEAN now prefers China over US

Source icon
Sources:  
ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Nikkei

A narrow majority of people in the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations would opt to align with China over the U.S. if forced to choose between the two, according to a Singapore-based think tank that surveyed people who inform or influence policy across public and private sectors. This was the first time in the survey’s history that ASEAN members preferred to align with China, though answers varied across the region: Decision-makers in Vietnam and the Philippines overwhelmingly leaned toward the U.S., perhaps reflecting their countries’ maritime disagreements with China. But the findings don’t necessarily portend China’s permanent dominance in the region: “It is actually more like a seesaw pattern than a trend,” a public policy expert in Singapore said.

China’s influence extends beyond the state

Source icon
Source:  
The Diplomat

While many focus on Beijing’s official policy — like infrastructure, government visits, etc. — as a measure of its regional influence, the geopolitics scholar Enze Han argues that China’s power extends further to private businesses, expats, and even criminal groups. It’s an oversimplification to “attribute everything associated with China to the Chinese state and the Chinese Communist Party, as if they dictate every aspect,” said Han, a Hong Kong-based professor whose new book explores Beijing’s presence in Southeast Asia. He told The Diplomat that a new wave of Chinese immigrants to Southeast Asian countries view their homeland as a great power with a vibrant economy, rather than a place to escape from, as earlier generations perceived it.

Semafor Logo
AD