In a crowded region with divergent national interests and concerns, suspicion of big powers and their attempts to influence attitudes towards them is not uncommon. Australia last week passed laws to prevent foreign interference in its domestic affairs. The move - clearly but not explicitly aimed at China - came as a new report showed Beijing significantly expanded efforts to gain influence in East Asia, and beyond. This is now par for the course for China. In his speech at the 19th party congress last October, President Xi Jinping announced that China will move closer to the centre of the world, and offered "Chinese wisdom" to solve problems facing mankind. His mandarins have been walking the talk.
China plays host to more visiting dignitaries each year than any other country. Over the last 18 years, it more than doubled the number of "sister city" partnerships in the region to 950. Between 2000 and 2016, it is estimated to have disbursed around US$48 billion (S$65.7 billion), largely on infrastructure projects, as part of its financial diplomacy. It also increased public broadcasting in the region. These trends, documented in a US study, buttress an Australian projection that China will eclipse America in influence in the Asia-Pacific in the next decade. As a rising power, it is not surprising that China is devoting sizeable resources to embellish its image and grow its "soft power" as it seeks a greater status.