China’s Influence in South and Southeast Asia




CHINA and Pakistan enjoy a strong relationship. Based heavily on cooperation, they both recognize the significance of close relations to attaining foreign objectives. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Project, currently under construction, is a fresh landmark for the new beginning of commercial relations between China and Pakistan.


Pakistan is a gate for China to reach its economic objectives, which cannot be achieved if Afghanistan does not agree to an era of peace and security. The strategy won’t be successful if terrorism and insecurity carry on in the bordering areas of China and Pakistan, including China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the starting point, and Gawadar Port, the final stop of CPEC. As a result, China is enhancing its influence and investment in Afghanistan. It offers training to Afghan security personnel, and gives scholarships to Afghan students. At the same time, China is working to build cooperation with the U.S. to bring peace to Afghanistan. Pakistan is also utilizing similar measures to abolish terrorism.


All South Asian countries are important for China regarding its economic goals. China’s energy and trade routes to the Middle East and Europe could be put in danger if disturbances occur in South Asia. China has given full support to Sri Lanka during its times of need, including providing huge financial assistance to develop the Port of Hambantota. Sri Lanka is now following a more balanced foreign policy towards China, trying to spur its own development.


China has been the biggest trading partner of Bangladesh for over a decade. Previously India enjoyed this status. The Chittagang Port has seen fast development with China’s support. China and Bangladesh also reached an agreement concerning the deep sea port of Sonadia. However, after sometime, Bangladesh stepped back on this project.


Southeast Asian countries are watching and observing Chinese movements very carefully. The Belt and Road Initiative is set to launch a new era of trade and partnership between China and ASEAN countries, which will also be extended further to Africa and Europe. China initiated its opening-up policy in the late 1970s, and over a short period of time, it has become an important trading partner of ASEAN. The China-ASEAN trade volume was US $41 billion in 2000, but is now about US $500 billion. In 2010, the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area came into effect, and now China is playing a key role in big projects of ASEAN countries – the Laos high-speed rail, hydro power plants in Cambodia, and Indonesia’s first high-speed rail project, which connects Jakarta with Bandung. It’s important to know that China plans to invest US $1 trillion in 60 developing countries to support over 900 projects.


Chinese activities are also seen as an effort to help solve the issue of global poverty. President of Philippines Rodrigo Duterte and Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razzaq are strong voices in favor of Chinese steps in ASEAN countries.


Through a deep analysis of China’s actions in South and Southeast Asia, it can be concluded that China’s influence has made significant progress, but there still remain several hurdles. Trade and investment are two keys for China to achieve its economic objectives, while a sound plan is needed.  


MUHAMMAD MEHDI is a media coordinator of Pakistan Muslim League N and columnist of Jang, the largest newspaper of Pakistan.