- POSTED: 03 Oct 2013 20:00
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China's President Xi Jinping arrived in Malaysia Thursday, the second stop on a Southeast Asian trip that underscores growing Chinese economic influence in a region wary of his country's territorial ambitions.
KUALA LUMPUR: China's President Xi Jinping arrived in Malaysia Thursday, the second stop on a Southeast Asian trip that underscores growing Chinese economic influence in a region wary of his country's territorial ambitions.
Xi is making his first trip to Southeast Asia since he took China's helm in March. The journey will culminate next week in his inaugural appearance at an Asia-Pacific summit in Indonesia.
With China and Washington vying for influence in the economically vibrant region, Xi appeared to gain a point on his US counterpart Barack Obama, who has had to cancel his own regional trip and attendance at the summit due to the US government shutdown.
Xi arrived from Indonesia, where the two sides underscored rising bilateral trade by signing a series of economic agreements.
He also became the first foreign leader to address Indonesia's parliament, saying China's maritime territorial disputes with Southeast Asian countries should be resolved in a "peaceful manner".
Some countries in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have expressed increasing alarm over Beijing's assertive claims to waters and islands in the South China Sea.
"China is ready to increase maritime cooperation with ASEAN," said Xi, while offering no new proposals.
During his three days in Malaysia, Xi was to receive a red-carpet welcome in the capital Kuala Lumpur on Friday before meeting Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Bilateral trade has grown tenfold since 2002 to top more than $94 billion last year, and was up another 15.7 per cent in the first half of 2013 compared to the same period a year earlier.
China is now Malaysia's biggest trading partner, overtaking the United States in recent years as the American economy has stumbled. Malaysia is Southeast Asia's third-largest economy.
During Xi's stay, the countries plan to sign a five-year programme for further economic and trade cooperation.
"The visit will strengthen and reaffirm the close ties between our two countries and set the future direction," Najib said in an interview with China's state Xinhua news agency.
Xi will attend the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation bloc on the Indonesian island of Bali on Monday and Tuesday, while Premier Li Keqiang will represent China at the East Asia Summit in Brunei on the following two days.
China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan, all have claims -- some overlapping -- to the resource-rich South China Sea, which analysts consider one of the world's potential flashpoints.
China agreed this year to hold discussions with ASEAN on an eventual binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea to prevent accidental conflict.
Analysts said the move has lowered temperatures, but Beijing would likely never back down on its territorial claims and will resist any agreement that could weaken them.