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Jieruo Li

May 9th, 2019

Book Review: China’s Footprints in Southeast Asia edited by Maria Serena I. Diokno, Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao and Alan H. Yang

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Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Jieruo Li

May 9th, 2019

Book Review: China’s Footprints in Southeast Asia edited by Maria Serena I. Diokno, Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao and Alan H. Yang

0 comments | 3 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

In China’s Footprints in Southeast Asia, editors Maria Serena I. Diokno, Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao and Alan H. Yang bring together contributors to explore China’s soft power influence in Southeast Asia from three perspectives: culture; political values; and foreign policy. This up-to-date book succeeds in bringing a multidimensional framework to understanding China’s influence in the neighbouring region, writes Jieruo Li.

This book review has been translated into Mandarin by Quek Xiao Tong 郭晓彤 (LN814, teacher Dr Lijing Shi) as part of the LSE Reviews in Translation project, a collaboration between LSE Language Centre and LSE Review of Books. Please scroll down to read this translation or click here.

China’s Footprints in Southeast Asia. Maria Serena I. Diokno, Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao and Alan H. Yang (eds). National University of Singapore Press. 2018.

China's Footprints in Southeast Asia coverFind this book (affiliate link): amazon-logo

China’s foreign relations have long been a popular topic, especially its interactions with neighbouring countries. This book explores a range of theories and analyses up-to-date data to provide readers with an insightful look into China’s relations with Southeast Asian nations, particularly how China’s soft power influences the region.

In Chapter One, editors Maria Serena I. Diokno, Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao and Alan H. Yang briefly review four stages of China’s relationship with Southeast Asian countries, and also summarise an overall view of China’s shifting role in the region, starting as an economic player to become an influential soft power. Here, the editors also mention several theories – such as Sinocentrism, the tribute system and others – to provide a brief explanation of the spread of China’s soft power.

In Chapter Two, Teng-chi Chang identifies the intangible factors, such as political value and leaders’ perceptions, that have contributed to China’s foreign policy and explains the changing regional engagement policy from the Deng Xiaoping period to the Xi Jinping administration. China under Deng’s leadership was ‘hiding its power’ and gradually shifted to ‘peaceful rising’. However, it has taken a harsher attitude after President Barack Obama announced a ‘pivot to Asia’, because China believes the US is intentionally countering its rising. Since late 2012, when Xi took office, China has developed a plan to achieve the ‘Chinese dream’, which can be understood as a tool to apply its discursive power. Chang points to both the internal and external factors which have affected China’s foreign policy dynamics; however, he does not fully explore relations with Southeast Asia. Moreover, China has shown its assertiveness since the mid-1990s, which was far earlier than Obama’s policy, so there are other factors that might need to be taken into consideration.

In Chapter Three, Ian Tsung-yen Chen uses the most-likely crucial-case research design, selecting Sino-Myanmar relations as a case to discuss China’s economic engagement in Southeast Asia and its influence which is measured by the Composite Index of Economic Influence. China’s economic presence in Myanmar has boomed since the 1990s due to Western countries implementing sanctions over Myanmar. China has therefore become its top trading partner and the largest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) donor as well as stockholder. However, this economic interdependence does not necessarily mean that Myanmar acts fully in concert with China, especially following its democratisation. Based on the collected data, the two countries have considerably different beliefs on human rights and the nuclear issue. Southeast Asian countries have been facing China’s rising and its influence since the 1990s, and have benefited economically while remaining concerned about their autonomy and security. Myanmar is a representative case of this, as well as a good foundation for further study on the interdependent relations between a great power and a small state.

Footprints in sand

Image Credit: Crop of Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash

In Chapter Four, Ngeow Chow Bing explores China’s footprint in Malaysia, as demonstrated by the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park (MCKIP). China is now the largest trading partner of Malaysia despite the late start to their economic relations, and the Chinese government also financially support the Malaysian government. Malaysia’s investment in China has been steadily increasing as well. MCKIP was one of the examples of Chinese and Malaysian joint projects that economically benefit both sides and show the friendship between the nations. However, the same case also demonstrates how central-local attitudes are sometimes contradictory due to different stands of interests. Moreover, some Chinese companies become involved in Malaysian domestic bureaucratic competition, which hinders projects’ progress. In fact, many countries retain a sceptical attitude towards China’s overseas projects, because the intentions behind China’s expansion are unclear. Small countries fear being manipulated by the Chinese government in the future. How to balance economic benefits and the preservation of national security will be a difficult problem for all of the Southeast Asian states, particularly with more projects conducted under the Belt and Road Initiative.

In Chapter Five, Natalia Soebagjo identifies that due to insufficient mutual understandings of business culture and procedures, China and Indonesia have conducted a severely delayed powerplant project. There were two main problems that hindered progress: the selecting process, especially the biding procedure; and financing issues, alongside other facilitating conditions which slowed down the project. The lesson drawn from this case is that both China and project host countries should do more research on each other’s political and business culture in order to proceed smoothly and avoid misunderstanding and unnecessary troubles.

In Chapter Six, Dennis D. Trinidad elaborates the aid policy mismatch between the Philippines, a Development Assistant Committee (DAC) member, and China, a non-DAC donor (NDD). Aid is a tool to assist and coordinate China’s foreign and commercial policies. However, due to China being a NDD, it is highly likely to fuel the host country’s local corruption by misusing public resources for private purposes, which can possibly cause the failure of projects. Trinidad points out that if China uses foreign aid as one of its soft power tools, it may work better with non-DAC recipients. However, the chapter would be more complete if he provided some recommendations for NDDs when cooperating with DACs.

In Chapter Seven, Yumi Kitamura focuses on the Chinese-Indonesian push for the reacceptance of Confucianism in the post-Suharto government. This is a representative example of China’s soft power in Indonesia, as one of the reasons for the Indonesian government to accept Confucianism was to seek China’s aid. Kitamura develops a unique angle to connect religious and economic assistance. However, further studies might aim to explore the mechanisms between Chinese Indonesians and the Chinese central government who provide financial aid, given that Chinese Indonesians were the main driving force behind  the official acceptance.

In Chapter Eight, Hsiao and Yang list Thailand, Singapore and Cambodia as examples of the strategic value of Confucius Institutes (CIs) in Southeast Asia, which have served as a tool for China’s government to establish and maintain relations with the host countries. However, there has been widespread scepticism voiced about CIs due to their less-than-transparent financial reports. Moreover, many host countries suspect CIs as being a propaganda means of the Chinese government. This is because the CIs are funded by the Chinese government, meaning they do not have full autonomy. The author uses several cases to argue that CIs are establishing guanxi (influential relationships) on behalf of the Chinese government; however, one should not neglect the cultural contribution nonetheless made by the CIs.

The collection covers a wide range of topics to demonstrate China’s soft power in Southeast Asia. The book is noteworthy because most of the chapters have been written from both China’s and the host countries’ perspectives. For example, while several authors discuss China’s aid policy, they also explain how the systems work in the host states and the potential problems between the donor and recipients. By analysing two sides on various subjects, this volume establishes a comprehensive picture of China’s footprints in Southeast Asia, as the title of the book promises.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.


在第一章节中,编辑Maria Serena I. Diokno, Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao 和 Alan H. Yang 简要地回顾了中国与东南亚国家关系的四个阶段,也概括了对中国在该区域所扮演的角色转变的看法–从一个经济佼佼者转变成具有影响力的软实力。编辑们也在此用了一系列的理论(例如中国中心主义、贡品制度等)来简略解释中国软实力的传播。

Book cover of China's Footprints in Southeast Asia在第二章节中,Teng-chi Chang梳理出造就中国外交政策的无形因素,例如政治价值观和领导人的洞察力:并解释了中国在邓小平至习近平执政期间对周边国家外交政策的转变。中国从邓小平主政期间的“韬光养晦”逐渐转向“和平崛起”。然而,在美国总统欧巴马宣布“重返亚洲”后,中国就开始采取更强硬的态度,因为中国认为这是美国在刻意防止它的崛起。自2012年底习近平任职起,中国制定了一个实现“中国梦”的计划,这个计划也被理解为个话语权的工具。Chang 也指出了影响中国外交关系的内在与外在因素,但是却没有深入探讨中国与东南亚国家的关系。除此之外,中国自1990年代中期,远早于欧巴马政策实行前,就已经开始了强硬、独断的态度。因此,在探讨中国的外交课题时,还须要考虑其他的因素。

在第三章节中,Ian Tsung-yen Chen 使用了最有可能性的关键案例研究设计,选择了中缅关系为案例以探讨中国与东南亚国家的经济关系和在该区域的影响力。它的影响力以经济影响力综合指数衡量。自西方国家在1990年代对缅甸实施经济制裁后,中国在缅甸的经济存在就已蓬勃发展。因此,中国成了缅甸的最大的贸易伙伴和最大的外国直接投资 (FDI) 捐助者和股东。然而,在经济上相互相连的关系并不代表缅甸会与中国同步发展,尤其是在缅甸民主化后。根据收集到的数据来看,两国对于人权和核能课题持有截然不同的看法。东南亚国家从1990年代以来就一直面对中国的崛起及其影响,虽然他们经济上收益,却依然担心着他们的自主权和安全。缅甸在这方面是个典型案例,也可以作为进一步研究大国与小国相互依存关系的良好基础。

Footprints in the sand

Image Credit: Crop of Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash

在第四章节中,Ngeow Chow Bing探讨了中国在马来西亚的足迹,如马来西亚-中国关丹产业园(马中关丹产业园、MCKIP)所证。尽管两国的经济关系起步较晚,但是中国现在已成为马国最大的贸易伙伴,而中国政府也在财政方面支持马国政府。除此之外,马国在中国的投资也蒸蒸日上。马中关丹产业园是中马合作项目的典范之一,它充分地展现双方合作所得到的经济效益,更体现了两国之间的友谊。然而,同样的例子也展示了中央与地方政府的态度有时因利益立场的不同而相互矛盾。此外,一些中国公司因为被卷入马国国内的官僚竞争,而阻碍了项目的进展。实际上,因为中国扩张的意图不明确,许多国家对中国的海外项目持质疑的态度。小国更是害怕未来被中国政府操纵。随着“一带一路”的项目越来越多,如何在经济利益与保障国家安全之间取得平衡,将是所有东南亚国家面临的难题。

在第五章节中,Natalia Soebagjo指出,由于中国与印度尼西亚对彼此的商业文化和程序理解不足,两国发展的电厂项目已经严重延迟。进展被阻碍有两大原因:一,筛选程序,尤其是招标程序;二,融资问题,以及其他的便利条件。这个例子应该作为前车之鉴。今后,中国和项目所在国都应该对彼此的政治和商业文化进行更多的研究,以避免误解和不必要的麻烦,使得项目可以顺利进行。

在第六章节中,Dennis D. Trinidad详细阐述了发展援助委员会 (DAC) 成员–菲律宾与非 DAC 捐助者 (NDD)—中国之间的援助政策不匹配。外援是协助和协调中国外交和商业政策的工具。但是,由于中国是NDD,它的援助极有可能导致东道国的地方腐败加重。因为这种援助可让腐败官员为了私人目的而滥用公共资源,从而也可能导致项目失败。Trinidad指出,如果中国将外援作为其软实力工具之一,它可能会更好地与非DAC受援国合作。 然而,Trinidad 并没有为NDD提供在与DAC合作时的建议。若他提供了这些建议,这一章会更加完整。

在第七章节中,Yumi Kitamura专注于印尼华裔在苏哈托政府之后推动重新接受儒家思想。这是中国在印尼实行软实力的一个典型例子,因为印尼政府接受儒家思想的原因之一就是希望寻求中国的帮助。Kitamura 研发出了一个独特的视角来连接宗教和经济援助。然而,进一步的研究可能注重于探索印尼华裔与提供财政援助的中国中央政府之间的关系,因为印尼华裔是使印尼官方接受儒家思想的主要推动力。

在第八章节中,Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao 和 Alan H. Yang列举了泰国、新加坡和柬埔寨作为东南亚孔子学院具有战略价值的例子,而孔子学院已成为中国政府与东道国建立和维持关系的工具。然而,由于其财务报告不够透明,人们普遍对孔子学院持有怀疑的态度。此外,许多东道国怀疑孔子学院是中国政府对外宣传的手段。这是因为孔子学院是由中国政府资助的,这意味着它们没有完全的自主权。作者也用几个案例来论证孔子学院正代表中国政府建立具有影响力的关系; 然而,人们不应忽视孔子学院对文化的贡献。



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About the author

Two grey pencils on yellow background

Jieruo Li

Jieruo Li is currently a postgraduate student at Victoria University of Wellington, having graduated from Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (Japan) with a Masters degree in International Public Administration in 2015. Her main research interest are Asia-Pacific international relations, China and Japan studies, foreign policy analysis and security studies.

Posted In: Asia | International Relations | Mandarin | Politics | Reviews in Translation

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This work by LSE Review of Books is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales.