China's President Xi Jinping (R) speaks with Myanmar's President Htin Kyaw after a signing ceremony at Beijing's Great Hall of the People in Beijing on April 10, 2017. Photo: AFP, Yohei Kanasashi

Southeast Asia’s infrastructure needs are growing at a staggering pace, as the Asian Development Bank estimated earlier this year, and domestic financial resources fall far short of meeting demand for investment.

China is well positioned to help fill the gap, and Beijing is pursuing a new foreign policy, emphasizing infrastructure investment with the newly established Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and One Belt, One Road initiative.

But as Deutsche Welle writes this week, the new initiatives are not just about helping to develop the regional economy. They are also about “common values.” Willian A. Callahan of the London School of Economics argues that Chinese ambitions in the region are about extending Chinese cultural dominance across Asia.

“One can conclude that [Chinese President Xi Jinping] thinks of the regional community as an extension of the Chinese nation, or at least as informed by the values of Chinese civilization. Once again, Xi’s defining ideas, structures, and projects seek to construct a Sino-centric regional and world order,” Deutsche Welle quotes Callahan as saying.

A shift towards closer relations with Beijing is inevitable due to China’s substantial financial resources and close geographic proximity. But it is yet to be seen whether the ideological dimension of China’s strategy will ultimately prove successful.

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