Just one day after wrapping up an intensive visit to five African countries in six days, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi is scheduled to embark on his second overseas journey in the New Year to Southeast Asia on Monday, which analysts believe will demonstrate China is shifting more focus to neighboring diplomacy which will help consolidate its friendship with countries after having been through some disturbances and setbacks in recent years.
At the invitation of State Counselor and Foreign Minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, Foreign Minister Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi of Indonesia, Second Foreign Minister Dato Seri Paduka Haji Erywan bin Pehin Datu Pekerma Jaya Haji Mohd Yusof of Brunei, and Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Lopez Locsin of the Philippines, Wang will pay official visits to the four countries from Monday to Saturday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying announced on Sunday.
The visit, coming as the world is still plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic, escalating tensions between China and the US with the latter coercing and luring Asian countries to confront China in an attempt to establish a "little NATO" in Asia, as well as after the rare tumult stirred by the US over the South China Sea in summer last year, is expected to strengthen cooperation with the four countries on fighting COVID-19 and restart important projects along the Belt and Road Initiative, analysts said.
It also conveys a signal to other countries in the region, such as Malaysia and Vietnam that they should stop dancing with the US and stir up troubles otherwise they will hurt themselves in the end, they said.
Wang's trip comes three months after his visits to Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos and Thailand with a stop in Singapore. In September 2020, Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe paid visits to four ASEAN member states. In August 2020, Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, visited Singapore.
"This visit will help further consolidate China's ties with these countries and give them a better understanding of China by formulating an objective stance on China-US relations and related affairs," Zhuang Guotu, head of Xiamen University's Southeast Asian Studies Center, told the Global Times.
During the fight against COVID-19, China has been subject to mounting smears and defamation from the West, but the Southeast Asian countries have always held a clear mind and refused to be a pawn of the US, Zhuang said. He noted that ASEAN countries have the most real sense of China's economic rise and growing influence in the region, and their open and inclusive attitude toward China in regional affairs has not changed.
Wang is also believed to be the first high-level foreign official to visit Myanmar since Aung San Suu Kyi's ruling party won a "landslide" victory in elections in November. Zhuang predicted that the visit will help warm bilateral ties as Myanmar is at a difficult time politically and economically.
"It may help restart projects hindered by the pandemic, such as the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone, and the China-Myanmar Border Economic Cooperation Zone," he said.
China and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Sunday to conduct feasibility study of a railway linking Mandalay, the country's second largest city in Myanmar's central region, with Kyaukphyu, the major town in Myanmar's Rakhine state, according to a release from the Chinese embassy in Myanmar, Xinhua reported Sunday.