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SATURDAY, January 28, 2023
3 takeaways from Xi’s Apec speech – and a warning for Thailand

3 takeaways from Xi’s Apec speech – and a warning for Thailand

SATURDAY, November 19, 2022

Thailand's political scientist and ex-government adviser has pinpointed three takeaways from President Xi Jinping’s Apec speech while warning Thailand not to take sides in the US and China’s battle for influence in Asia-Pacific.

Panitan Wattanayagorn said Xi’s Apec address laid out China’s plan to strengthen its role in Asia-Pacific through closer economic, trade, and investment ties with the region's countries.

China’s leader had been due to deliver the speech at Thursday’s Apec CEO Summit but cancelled the appointment and sent the paper instead, with the Chinese delegation citing his tight schedule.

Panitan said there were three major points to take away from the speech.

The first takeaway was Xi’s overall perspective on the Asia-Pacific region.

The speech stated that the region will continue to grow steadily while adhering to international rules and allowing trade and investment to flow freely.

The second takeaway was Xi’s emphasis on the importance of the region, which he said must not be treated as anyone's backyard and used as a battleground for great-power rivalries.

"Actually, what Xi Jinping said is not dissimilar to what the US said. It's just that the manner in which he used the words made China [sound] less aggressive. Some countries in this region already perceive China's influence.”

The third takeaway was building relationships to stabilise the region's prosperity. Xi stated that his country’s policy was to help Asia-Pacific to grow. He then wrapped up his speech by boasting of China's great successes, its future role, and its efforts to maintain peace and stability. Xi also promised that China would be a country that brought inclusive benefits for all, rather than one that caused problems.

Panitan said the speech was also directed at the Chinese audience back home, aimed at boosting nationalism by demonstrating China’s success on the global stage.

3 takeaways from Xi’s Apec speech – and a warning for Thailand

Xi’s administration has been facing unusual levels of criticism in China for its strict zero-Covid policy at a time when other countries are returning to social and economic normality.

Panitan said China has always prioritised the Asia-Pacific region, but in recent years the United States had pushed to be a part of this prosperous region, causing tensions between the two superpowers.

"China wants peace in the region so it can achieve its goals without having to deal with risks or conflicts.”

However, the US wanted a more intensive rules-based order that protected the sovereignty of Taiwan, which China claims, Panitan said.

Amid growing regional tension, Thailand and its Asean allies must beware of siding with either superpower and losing advantages.

Asean centrality has been threatened in recent years by crises over the Rohingya and now the military takeover in Myanmar, which have generated deep divisions in the regional bloc.

Panitan urged Thailand and Asean to rebalance by deliberating deeply on each important issue before moving forward.

The 2022 Apec Summit has drawn global attention to the region amid geopolitical tensions, climate change, and looming recession – adding urgency to member-countries’ efforts to work together to find solutions.