Dr. Thomas Lairson Professor of Political Science XI Jinping This is a collection of materials relating to the leader of the Chinese Communist Party and President of China, XI Jinping. Nyt

NYT Asia’s ‘Big Guy’ Spreads Cash and Seeks Influence in Pacific Region

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Asia’s ‘Big Guy’ Spreads Cash and Seeks Influence in Pacific Region



President Xi Jinping of China received a traditional Maori greeting in Wellington, New Zealand, last week. Mr. Xi also visited Australia and Fiji. Credit Diego

BEIJING — When China’s leader, Xi Jinping, visited the Australian state of Tasmania last week, he was greeted by a front page of the local newspaper written in Mandarin. He ate the island’s salmon, which will soon be available in China, and met a rare beast known as the Tasmanian devil.

While President Obama quickly returned to the White House after a series of Asian summits, Mr. Xi kept going. He spent more days than Mr. Obama did in Australia, America’s staunch ally; toured New Zealand, another American ally; and flew to the tiny Pacific island of Fiji.

Everywhere Mr. Xi went, he left a trail of money, a bounty aimed at showcasing China as the dominant economic power in Asia. The largess was wrapped in a long-range message: Don’t worry, he suggested in his speeches. China, the “big guy,” is friendly and worthy of consideration not only as an economic partner, but a strategic one, too.

From the opening of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing nearly two weeks ago through Mr. Xi’s tour in the Pacific, China announced that it would spend $70 billion on loans and infrastructure in the Asia Pacific region, according to an analysis by the Australian National University.

The impact of some of the money, like $40 billion for a Silk Road infrastructure fund in Central and East Asia, could be decades away, the university’s East Asia Bureau of Economic Research said. Still, it noted that the $20 billion for loans and infrastructure for the 10 countries in the Association for Southeast Asian Nations was a substantial amount for projects that could come on line quite soon.

The figures were particularly stark when stacked against American promises. The White House pledged $150 million for Myanmar during Mr. Obama’s recent visit for an Asian summit. On the edges of the same meeting, China pledged $7.8 billion to refurbish decrepit roads and increase energy production.

Mr. Xi has his own challenges in the region. China’s ambitions to control more of the South China and East China Seas — including territory claimed by other countries — has set many of its neighbors on edge. Still, its financial ties in the region are undeniable.

Besides promising money, the Chinese pushed hard on trade agreements that, analysts say, they view as being as much about diplomacy as business.

During the APEC summit, China called for the start of a new free trade area in the Asia Pacific that Beijing advertised as more inclusive and less demanding in its rules than the Obama administration’s pet project, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The partnership, or T.P.P. for short, is still being negotiated and does not include China.

In Australia, Mr. Xi and the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, declared the completion of a China-Australia free trade pact, 10 years in the making, that will open China’s markets to Australian beef, dairy products and that Tasmanian salmon.

“The last two weeks showed that in Asia, even though China is not a security partner, China is an important economic partner,” said Wu Xinbo, director of American studies at the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University. “It shows the United States can say a lot about regional prosperity but doesn’t do much. China only says some things, but does a lot.”

What Mr. Xi did say in Australia, though, was intended as reassurance backed by resolve.

In an address to the Parliament, he spoke of China’s power relative to its regional neighbors. “China is a large country of over 1.3 billion people,” he said. “It is like the big guy in the crowd. Others naturally wonder how the big guy will move and act, and they may be concerned that the big guy may push them around, stand in their way or even take up their place.”

China, he said, was interested in delivering development to the Asia Pacific region through its own prosperity in “a virtuous cycle of development and security.”

Beneath the reassurance, though, was a sharp message, reminding Australia that China would stand firm in upholding the “core interests” of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Looking at the longer term, Mr. Xi seemed to be trying to entice Australia, one of America’s closest intelligence-sharing allies, away from its more than half-century alliance with Washington. “We have every reason to go beyond a commercial partnership to become strategic partners who have a shared vision and pursue common goals,” Mr. Xi said.

Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at Australian National University, said: “Xi and his colleagues are very serious about their strategic ambitions. In the long run they believe that the gravitational force of China’s economy will pull Australia into its political and strategic orbit and keep it there.”

Mr. Obama was apparently attuned to what Mr. Xi might offer. Two days before the Chinese leader appeared at the Parliament while in Australia for the Group of 20 summit, President Obama, in an address to university students there, essentially warned America’s ally not to get too close to China.

In not-so-oblique references to China’s assertive behavior in strategic waters, Mr. Obama said: “An effective security order for Asia must be based — not on spheres of influence, or coercion, or intimidation where big nations bully the small — but on alliances of mutual security, international law and international norms.”

Momentarily, at least, Australia seemed giddy about Mr. Xi. The Australian press, usually an unwavering proponent of the United States alliance, embraced the Chinese leader. Mr. Obama, by contrast, was criticized for implicitly raising objections in his speech at the university to Mr. Abbott’s opposition to ambitious climate-change goals.

After appearing in the national Parliament, Mr. Xi, who was on his fifth visit to Australia — he visited several times as vice president — flew to Tasmania. In doing so, he completed a circuit of all of Australia’s seven states. Not even Mr. Obama had accomplished that, Australian commentators said.

The cold smoked Tasmanian salmon served to Mr. Xi at a Government House lunch was a product that, under the terms of the China-Australia free trade pact, will start arriving in China next month. Tariffs on sales of the fish will disappear over the next four years, said Mark A. Ryan, chief executive of the Tassal Group, which farms and exports the salmon.

The appearance of the salmon in Chinese markets will carry an early strategic favor for the Chinese government: The Tasmanian variety is expected to cut further into the sales of Norwegian salmon that have already dwindled since Norway’s Nobel Committee awarded the 2010 Peace Prize to the jailed Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo.

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