Chinese President Xi Jinping has told Southeast Asian leaders that China will not be seeking to dominate the region and will not accept anyone else making decisions for them.
“Be clear, I don’t want to invade, I don’t want to rule over Southeast Asia. I just want to help,” Mr. Xi said in a meeting with his counterpart from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), according to the official Xinhua news agency. “The Chinese people won’t take the place of anyone, whether they be the rulers or the ruled, the nations or the areas.”
The unprecedented move underscores the strategic importance of Southeast Asia to Beijing. Many regional members are attempting to determine whether to pivot away from China to the United States, and whether to focus on existing markets or new ones, such as infrastructure investment abroad. They may also be intent on seeing whether Washington’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will diminish China’s influence in the region. The China-ASEAN summit comes a week after President Trump withdrew the United States from the TPP, which was the main goal of American diplomats in the region.
The ASEAN bloc had made tentative plans to follow the Obama administration’s “Asian Pivot” strategy, designed to strengthen ties among U.S. allies in the region while reassuring China’s neighbors, and to shift a greater share of foreign policy attention to the region. China is one of the United States’ principal rivals in the Asia-Pacific region. U.S. officials had defended the pivot strategy as a security measure to prevent China from stealing the region’s resources and people.
Xi did not address the development in Washington, but he said he and his fellow leaders were concerned with “not abandoning our goal of equality, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, upholding the rules-based international order, and maintaining an open multilateral trading system.”