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Strategic divergence threatens Australia-ASEAN relations



Author: Abdul Rahman Yaacob, ANU

Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles said in a July 2022 speech that Australia needed to ‘attune itself to the concerns of the Indo-Pacific region’. That includes Southeast Asia.

An Australia that is unattuned to the concerns of its neighbours will be more likely to formulate foreign and defence policies that are inconsistent with promoting deeper relations with Southeast Asia — especially if strategic interests diverge.

Former Singaporean diplomat, Kishore Mahbubani, points out the danger of Australia and ASEAN drifting apart on strategic issues, which could lead to Australia’s isolation from Southeast Asia. But Australia and ASEAN member states have already diverged on the rise of China.

Australia’s relations with China have deteriorated since the mid-2010s because China was perceived as a threat to Australia’s external and domestic interests. Several Australian defence documents, such as the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, argued that China was challenging Washington’s dominance in the Indo-Pacific region. That led Australia to revitalise the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue in 2017 and form AUKUS with the United Kingdom and the United States in 2021.

While Australia sees China as a security threat, information obtained through interviews with ASEAN member states’ defence officials, policymakers and academics demonstrates the region has more complex security concerns. Respondents from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam have a unanimous conviction that China is a revisionist maritime power that may undermine the international maritime order to support its claims in the South China Sea.

But the respondents agreed that China’s rise was not only perceived in a negative light — regional states have benefited from Beijing’s economic rise. They recognise that relations with China need to be managed delicately by preventing a problem in one area, like maritime borders, from affecting another, like foreign investment. A Vietnamese respondent thought that disputes with China over the South China Sea should not overshadow its other economic and security relations with Beijing.

Respondents from ASEAN member states with territorial claims over the South China Sea consistently point out threats to regional stability from sources other than China. For some, Washington’s Freedom of Navigation Operations are destabilising and could provoke China into a military conflict in the South China Sea. While Washington could pull its military forces from Southeast Asia in the aftermath of such a conflict, regional states would still have to live with China.

Besides the South China Sea dispute and the US–China rivalry, respondents shared other urgent security concerns faced by regional states. The Philippines and Thailand are concerned by domestic insurgencies driven by minority-Muslim grievances, while Indonesia is fighting a separatist movement in West Papua. For some, the legacy of the Cold War is still a security threat. Cambodia and Laos have plenty of unexploded ordinances from the Vietnam War in their territories.

The South China Sea and China are not the only maritime security concerns. Respondents from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines point out threats from arms smugglers, human traffickers and terrorist groups in the Sulu Sea. Singapore and Thailand, among other states, are concerned about the dangers of piracy to their Sea Lines of Communications. In the case of Thailand, piracy threatens the security of oil tankers sailing from Singapore.

Non-traditional threats are another area of concern for regional states. For some, illegal fishing is a security and economic challenge. Evidence seized from vessels involved in illegal fishing suggests that another major Asian power, besides China, is a culprit. Vietnam is concerned about food and water security in the Mekong delta. Many mainland regional states emphasise transnational security issues, such as cybercrime or a lack of state cyber security capabilities.

There was a consensus among the respondents that Australia is the region’s most trusted security partner, ahead of the United States and China. But that trust will erode if Australia is perceived to advance an agenda contrary to the strategic interests of ASEAN members.

Understanding the region’s security concerns will enable Australia to calibrate policies to boost its soft power through assistance to regional states consistent with Australian values. Australia should avoid employing the ‘China’ threat as…

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The Latest Updates on China’s Visa-Free Policies



China has fully reopened its borders, allowing international tourism to recover. Visa-free travel policies are reinstated, and visa fees for foreign travelers will be reduced by 25% from December 11, 2023, to December 31, 2024. China and Singapore are also pursuing a 30-day visa-free travel arrangement.

China has fully reopened its borders, promising recovery of international tourism and travel. Many of the visa-free travel policies that were in place prior to the pandemic have therefore come back into effect, enabling people from a wide range of countries to visit

UPDATE (December 8, 2023): On December 8, 2023, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released the Notice on Temporary Reduction of Fees for Applying Visa to China. According to this notice, during the period from December 11, 2023, to December 31, 2024, China shall cut visa fees by 25 percent across the board for foreign travelers. For more details, please consult with your local Chinese embassy or consulate.

UPDATE (December 7, 2023): China and Singapore are seeking to establish a mutual 30-day visa-free travel arrangement to boost people exchanges between the two countries, according to Reuters. At the time of writing, no further details have been released regarding the timeline or the eligibility, requirement, and application procedures of this new arrangement. Click here for more information regarding this mutual 30-day visa-free travel between China and Singapore. 

This article is republished from China Briefing. Read the rest of the original article.

China Briefing is written and produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The practice assists foreign investors into China and has done since 1992 through offices in Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. Please contact the firm for assistance in China at

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Analysis of UK Investments in China for 2023: Evaluating Deals, Values, M&A, and Investments



British Government underwent reshuffle with pro-China David Cameron as Foreign Minister. Possible mild rapprochement with Beijing. Analysis of UK investments in China this year reveals potential trends. Report includes unique Q1-Q3 data and predicts outlook for 2024.

By Chris Devonshire-Ellis & Henry Tillman   

With a reshuffle in the British Government and ex-Prime Minister – and generally pro-China politician David Cameron now as the UK’s Foreign Minister, there have been early signs of a potential mild rapprochement in the British governments overall attitude towards Beijing.

But before people get carried away, we can look at what investments the UK has made into China this year – as investments made while anti-China politics have tended to be the norm are typically indicative of stronger trends. In this report I include unique data that has not previously been made public, and examine the Q1-Q3 investment trends to see what may lie ahead for 2024.

This article is republished from China Briefing. Read the rest of the original article.

China Briefing is written and produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The practice assists foreign investors into China and has done since 1992 through offices in Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. Please contact the firm for assistance in China at

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Ratings agency cuts China’s credit outlook



Financially strapped local governments and state-owned enterprises pose a risk to China’s future economic growth, the ratings agency Moody’s said today in a report downgrading the country’s credit outlook from stable to negative.

Growing evidence suggests that the central government will be required to shore up the debt-laden entities, creating “broad downside risks to China’s fiscal, economic and institutional strength,” Moody’s said.

Local governments are thought to have accumulated trillions of dollars of debt due to spending during the COVID pandemic and a loss of income due to a troubled real estate market.

Despite the challenges, Moody’s maintained China’s overall credit rating of A1, which it describes as low-risk though not the safest category of investment. Moody’s said the rating reflects its belief in the country’s “financial and institutional resources to manage the transition in an orderly fashion.”

“Its economy’s vast size and robust, albeit slowing, potential growth rate, support its high shock absorption capacity,” Moody’s said. 

Even so, the outlook downgrade signals some concern about China’s future creditworthiness.

In a statement, China’s Foreign Ministry said it was disappointed in the ratings change and that Moody’s concerns about its growth and financial stability were “unnecessary.” 

In recent years, through the continuous efforts of relevant departments and local governments, China has established a system to prevent and resolve the risks of local government debt,” the ministry said. “The trend of disorderly and illegal borrowing by local governments has been initially curbed, and positive results have been achieved in the disposal of local government debt.”

An employee works at a steel plant in Huaian, in China’s eastern Jiangsu province, Dec. 3, 2023. (AFP)

Moody’s projects China’s annual growth rate will be 4% in 2024 and 2025 but average 3.8% from 2026 to 2030, at which time it might drop again to 3.5%. 

Derek Scissors, the chief economist at China Beige Book, a firm that analyzes China’s economy for investors, said in an email that the downgrade was to be expected.

“It’s a recognition of long-standing conditions, not a new development,” said Scissors, who is also a senior fellow at the free-market think tank American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “I think growth will be faster than Moody’s thinks in 2024 and decelerate more than they think after that.”

Fees from local land sales account for nearly 40% of the revenue to local and regional governments. But China’s real-estate sector has been hit hard by overbuilding. One giant, Evergrande, defaulted under massive debt last year, triggering a broader real estate crisis.

Moody’s report said that “the downsizing of the property sector is a major structural shift in China’s growth drivers which is ongoing and could represent a more significant drag to China’s overall economic growth rate than currently assessed.”

Edited by Tara McKelvey

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