IDS Evidence Report 187

China as a Development Actor in Southeast Asia

Published on 1 April 2016

This Evidence Report identifies and explains the central factors driving China’s policies towards Southeast Asia. It examines China’s foreign relations through the perspective of foreign policy. In this context, as the title indicates, the report gathers together and evaluates the evidence on China’s role as a development actor in this neighbouring region.

The study aims to contribute to evidence-based policy deliberation, formulation and implementation. It finds that, since the accession of President Xi Jinping, Southeast Asia has gained additional importance for Chinese foreign relations as a key region in China’s new ‘neighbourhood policy’ and the twenty-first century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) initiative.

China’s economic cooperation and its development assistance are said (by the Chinese government) to provide investment and logistical know-how, skills and experience to undertake infrastructure capacity building in Southeast Asia. Yet the strength of Sino-regional relations is tempered by continuing tensions. These include unresolved territorial disputes, China’s unilateral action in declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone in the South China Sea, and growing concerns over weaknesses in Chinese corporate social responsibility.

This report concludes that:

  1. Southeast Asia’s policy portfolio would be strengthened through enhanced multilateral and national economic diversification strategies;
  2. Sino-regional development partnerships can draw upon the new post-2015 global development agenda to strengthen trilateral cooperation; and 
  3. civil society should be engaged as a full partner in policy determination.

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Renwick, N. (2016) China as a Development Actor in Southeast Asia, IDS Evidence Report 187, Brighton: IDS

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Renwick, N
IDS Evidence Report, issue 187


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