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China races for influence as it frets over US footholds in Southeast Asia

Qin Gang’s trip to Indonesia – his first visit to Southeast Asia since his appointment as China’s foreign minister last year – has shown that Beijing is increasingly concerned that the region is leaning more towards the United States, analysts said.

While the agenda for Qin’s two-day trip this week was dominated by trade and infrastructure development, statements from the Chinese side, as well as remarks by officials from both countries, revealed growing unease about a rivalry between China and the US, according to diplomatic observers.

The anxiety, they said, reflected the challenges both the US and China face as they try to nudge Asean countries to pick sides on particular issues.

“China has always been worried about the US getting a foothold in Asean and Southeast Asia, and that is borne from the fact that China has many points of contention with Asean countries that the US does not,” said Dylan Loh, an assistant professor of public policy and global affairs at Nanyang Technological University.

“The sense that US presence is welcomed in the region causes a source of irritation and anxiety.”

The independence of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China’s commitment to resolving issues in the disputed South China Sea were at the centre of Qin’s discussions in several meetings with Indonesian and Asean officials on Wednesday.
During a meeting with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi, Qin repeated that China supported Asean’s strategic independence and upheld its centrality, while being opposed to bloc politics and camp confrontation.
Retno agreed, saying Asean countries should not become a proxy for any power. She pledged to speed up talks over the South China Sea code of conduct between China and other member nations.

source: scmp