China is preparing to establish a sizable solar panel module plant in Malaysia while at the same time in Laos it is taking steps to construct a 580 km highway. This is part of a much larger campaign to cultivate goodwill and economic ties with Southeast Asian countries. The campaign in turn is a response to attempts made by the United States to blunt China’s spreading influence across the region.
On June 24 Malaysia’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry announced that Risen Energy, which is a titan of China’s solar energy industry, will construct the plant. The company has made an investment promise totalling approximately $10.1 billion in Malaysia’s photovoltaic industry.
Prior to that announcement on June 23 an online meeting was held involving Chinese officials and the cabinet ministers of countries that were already partners in the larger Belt and Road initiative. These countries were offered COVID-19 vaccines and cooperation from the larger country amidst their difficult transitions into low-carbon economies.
It would be no surprise if the investment activity of Risen Energy was heavily tied to the decisions of policymakers in Beijing. China’s aggressive investment campaign across Southeast Asia consists of similar programs of economic aid coupled with massive infrastructure projects.
The campaign is suspected by many as a way to advance the country’s foreign policy interests while at the same blunting the United States’ efforts to do the same in Southeast Asia. China’s efforts could also be an attempt to ameliorate Southeast Asian countries in regards to the buildup of Chinese forces and military infrastructure in the South China Sea.
Earlier in the same month as the above two occurrences, on June 7 various foreign ministers physically met with each other for the first time in about 16 months at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The event was hosted in Chongqing, China.