Over the past year, Chinese officials reportedly have been surprised by how quickly the Trump administration has undermined U.S. influence in East Asia, creating a leadership void that could potentially be filled—by China. But even before Trump alienated many Asian partners with a mix of harsh trade rhetoric and a general disinterest in South and Southeast Asia, Beijing had launched a strategy to establish itself as the dominant power in its neighborhood. This strategy coincides with the rise of Xi Jinping, the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao, and a man with a desire to make China, shall we say, great again. While the Xi administration appears to have global ambitions, China has made South and Southeast Asia its current top priorities. Its efforts there could become a template for how Beijing will expand its influence worldwide.
For more on how China is utilizing BRI to expand its influence in South and Southeast Asia—and possibly failing as well—see my new review, from which this first paragraph is excerpted, in the Washington Monthly of Will Doig’s book High-Speed Empire: Chinese Expansion and the Future of Southeast Asia.