October 16, 2021 House of Trust

Council on Foreign Relations Article: Irresistible Inducement? Assessing China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Southeast Asia

Photo by Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

Southeast Asia occupies a central place on the map of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). President Xi Jinping chose to announce the maritime prong of the BRI in Indonesia, the largest country in Southeast Asia, in October 2013, a month after he had launched the overland prong of the BRI in Kazakhstan. Southeast Asia is where the land “Belt” and sea “Road” of the massive initiative converge. Mainland Southeast Asia is one of the six economic corridors of the BRI, while maritime Southeast Asia is where the Indian and Pacific Oceans converge, sitting on the intersection of sea lanes vital for communication, trade, and transportation of energy and other critical resources. As indicated by the title of David Shambaugh’s 2020 book, Where Great Powers Meet, Southeast Asia is also significant strategically to both China and the United States. Thus, Southeast Asia is China’s “strategic throat” and is crucial to its ascendancy as a world power.

To mitigate risks and maximize benefits in multiple domains, China has been financing and building a chain of ports, pipelines, highways, high-speed rails, land bridges, industrial parks, and digital connectivity centers across Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. While some of these endeavors predated the launch of the BRI, they have been accelerated since 2013. Together, these hard and soft infrastructure projects form a network of “dots” and “lines” on the BRI map, connecting interests, cultivating stakes, and consolidating interdependence between Beijing and other capitals along its peripheries. David Lampton and his colleagues thus observe: in this eventful century, all roads lead to Beijing, one way or another. The story of the BRI in Southeast Asia is about the power of proximity, as much as the proximity of power.

Geography aside, there are other fundamental factors that show the importance of Southeast Asia to China’s BRI and its wider interests. These include: the imperatives of creating external demand for Chinese firms and remedying internal overcapacity in some Chinese industries in the wake of the 2008–2009 global financial crisis, neutralizing what China perceives to be U.S.-led “regional encirclement,” as exemplified by Obama’s “rebalancing to Asia” and the ongoing Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy, as well as narrowing the domestic socio-developmental gaps between China’s western and eastern regions, securing sustainable resources and energy supplies, and managing internal transitions and tensions after the decades-long reform and opening up policies.

Each of these imperatives is central to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s regime legitimacy and political future. Each imperative highlights the increasing salience of Southeast Asia to China’s national interests and external strategies, even and especially when the CCP is struggling to cope with an increasingly challenging external environment. Indeed, as Sino-U.S. relations become more uncertain and China’s relations with the second-tier powers (other members of the Quad and other Indo-Pacific partners, including those in Europe) become more unstable, Southeast Asia will become more important to China. And as Beijing exhibits a growing inclination to use military coercion and political intimidation to safeguard what it sees to be its sovereign interests in the South China Sea and on other fronts, the BRI and other tools of cooperation and persuasion will become more important, not least to offset the adverse effects of China’s coercive actions and optimize its broader interests, while seeking prestige and power.

These seemingly contradictory actions are likely to continue, as Beijing develops its dual circulation strategy, which maximizes synergies between domestic and international markets, in response to growing pressures from Washington’s China policy, including the decoupling pursuit. Under President Joe Biden, Washington is determined to rebuild U.S. global leadership by revitalizing its military alliances and partnerships in Asia and Europe, while collaborating with like-minded nations to push back against China on issues related to security, technology, infrastructure connectivity, development, supply chains, and human rights, among other matters. Big-power rivalries are being intensified across the twin chessboards of high- and low-politics (i.e., security and nonmilitary domains, respectively), increasing pressures and sparing scanty space for smaller states to maneuver and hedge for survival.

For a further assessment of BRI in Southeast Asia, and its future trajectory, see the entire paper by Cheng-Chwee Kuik here.

*This article was published in Council on Foreign Relations

**Dr Kuik Cheng-Chwee is an Associate Fellow at Bait Al-Amanah (House of Trust)

Related Posts

The Edge Article: Taking a Business Path out of Urban Poverty

May 17, 2021

May 17, 2021

The “Re-examining Urban Poverty” webinar jointly organized by Embassy of Belgium in Malaysia, Center for Market Education and Bait Al-Amanah...

A Call to Action

May 9, 2019

May 9, 2019

Al-Sharq Youth Conference 2019 For the first time ever, Malaysia was chosen to be the host of the 2019 Al-Sharq...

Top 18 Achievements of Johor

January 30, 2018

January 30, 2018

Johor’s economic growth surpassed the recorded rates for Malaysia each year from 2011 to 2016, with an average of 5.9%...

FMT Article: Relook how Malaysia measures poverty, say academics at Urban Poverty Webinar

April 16, 2021

April 16, 2021

By Imran Ariff, Reporter of Free Malaysia Today The way Malaysia measures poverty must be changed to take into account...

Mengenang Mohammad Adib

December 18, 2018

December 18, 2018

Malam tadi Mohammad Adib bin Mohd Kassim telah pergi untuk selamanya.  Pepatah Inggeris ada berbunyi “only the good die young”. Pepatah...

Bajet 2018: Mahasiswa

November 24, 2017

November 24, 2017

Bajet 2018: Mahasiswa Post Views: 620

Business Sentiment Report 2019/2020

January 10, 2020

January 10, 2020

The annual Malaysian Business Sentiment Survey 2019/2020 conducted jointly by Monash University Malaysia and CPA Australia identifies key issues that define...

Kad Laporan Pencapaian Kerajaan Johor 2013-2018

March 26, 2018

March 26, 2018

Bertemakan ‘Membangun Dekad Baharu Johor’, Kad Laporan  Pencapaian Kerajaan Johor 2013-2018 memaparkan prestasi cemerlang kerajaan BN Johor yang merangkumi pelbagai aspek termasuk ekonomi, perumahan dan pemilikan tanah, infrastruktur awam, membasmi kemiskinan,...

Malaysia, Don’t Forget Libya

April 7, 2021

April 7, 2021

*Photo Credit: AFP By Dr Abdul Razak Ahmad On February 5, 2021, the UN-assembled Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) appointed...

Countering Violent Extremism in Malaysia

October 26, 2018

October 26, 2018

Summary of “The Role of Universities and Schools in Countering and Preventing Violent Extremism: Malaysian Experience.” written by Ahmad El-Muhammady published...

Weekly Economic Update (Week 3 of January 2020)

January 22, 2020

January 22, 2020

I. Retrenchment & Downsizing in 2020 Malaysia’s unemployment rate could rise from 3.3% to between 3.4% and 3.6% in 2020...

Afghanistan At The Crossroad Between Peace And Civil War

August 11, 2021

August 11, 2021

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool We are at a very important juncture in the history of Afghanistan, its people, the...

International Affairs Update (Week 1 of January 2020)

January 8, 2020

January 8, 2020

A. Singapore i) Digital Tax Singapore started imposing GST on overseas digital services at the current standard rate of 7%,...

Pesan kepada Umno untuk 2020

December 18, 2019

December 18, 2019

TAHUN 2019 bakal melabuhkan tirainya. Tahun hadapan, bermulalah dekad baharu bagi kalendar Gregorian. Bersamanya juga tiba seribu satu perubahan tatakelola...

Regional Economic Recovery in 2021?

January 25, 2021

January 25, 2021

*Image Source: AFP Photo/Roslan Rahman The year 2020 has been an unprecedented year on the global stage. With coronavirus cases...

Comments
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *