Popular views of China's intentions have turned negative in virtually every country in the region in the last few years, naturally feeding into government positions despite the awkwardness of trying to keep the PRC at arm's length while depending substantially on strong economic relations.
Bilahari Kausikan, the former head of Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry, has told The Australian newspaper that Australia is "not in a unique position" concerning the "so-called contradiction" between its economic and security interests. "Almost everybody in the Indo-Pacific… is in the same position to some degree."
For China, the crucial factor amid so many variables as it seeks under Xi's driving energy to extend its influence is the strength of its economy. Its considerable, rapid progress on the east Asian and global fronts in the last few years have come from weaponizing its economic heft.
But if – as appears to be the case, for instance, in Belt & Road programs post-COVID – Beijing needs to retain its capital to stimulate its domestic economy rather than invest it or lend it overseas, especially in projects or to borrowers whose prospects of a return appear remote, then it will need to find new ways to realise its great-power role, and to leverage it where it counts, for the communist party's domestic credibility.
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