Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) arrived in Malaysia yesterday, the second stop on a Southeast Asian trip that underscores growing Chinese economic influence in a region wary of his country’s territorial ambitions.
Xi is making his first trip to Southeast Asia since he took China’s helm in March.
The journey will culminate next week in his inaugural appearance at the Asia-Pacific’s premier international summits, held this year in Indonesia and Brunei.
With China and Washington vying for influence in the economically vibrant region, Xi appeared to gain a point on US President Barack Obama, who has had to curtail his own regional trip due to the US government shutdown.
Xi arrived from Indonesia, where the two sides underscored rising bilateral trade by signing a series of economic agreements.
He also became the first foreign leader to address Indonesia’s parliament, saying China’s maritime territorial disputes with Southeast Asian countries should be resolved in a “peaceful manner.”
Some countries in the 10-member ASEAN have expressed increasing alarm over Beijing’s assertive claims to waters and islands in the South China Sea.
“China is ready to increase maritime cooperation with ASEAN,” Xi said, while offering no new proposals.
During his three days in Malaysia, Xi is to receive a red-carpet welcome in the capital Kuala Lumpur today, before meeting Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Bilateral trade has grown tenfold since 2002 to top more than US$94 billion last year and it was up another 15.7 percent in the first half of this year compared with the same period last year.
China is now Malaysia’s biggest trading partner, overtaking the US in recent years as its economy has stumbled. Malaysia is Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy.
During Xi’s stay, the countries plan to sign a five-year program for further economic and trade cooperation.
“The visit will strengthen and reaffirm the close ties between our two countries, and set the future direction,” Najib said in an interview with Xinhua news agency.
Obama was scheduled to visit Malaysia next week after the regional summits, but he shelved that, as well as a stop in the Philippines, due to the government funding crisis back home.
Obama is so far still scheduled to attend the APEC summit on the Indonesian island of Bali on Monday and Tuesday, and an East Asia summit in Brunei the following two days.
Taiwan, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines all have claims — some overlapping — to the resource-rich South China Sea, which analysts consider one of the world’s potential flashpoints.
China agreed this year to hold discussions with ASEAN on an eventual binding code of conduct in the South China Sea to prevent accidental conflict.
Analysts said the move has lowered temperatures, but Beijing would likely never back down on its territorial claims and would resist any agreement that could weaken them.