Overshadowed by the controversy around Emmanuel Macron’s visit to China earlier this month was another Beijing trip by a global leader, says James Crabtree in the FT: Anwar Ibrahim. Malaysia’s prime minister hailed China’s economic prowess, and the “phalanx of business leaders” he brought along went home having inked deals worth almost $39bn. The sight of politicians from the “global south” streaming back into Beijing should alarm the West. For all Washington’s attempts to push economic “decoupling” from China, Asian nations from Bangladesh to Thailand are running in the opposite direction: “more trade with Beijing”.
“Paradoxically, this is an outcome Western policies might actually deliver.” When global firms try to “decouple” from Beijing, they tend to move factories out of China to some “geopolitically neutral” country nearby, often Malaysia or Vietnam. The theory is that this should reduce reliance on China and pull those countries closer to the West. But it’s not as simple as that. Samsung shifted production of millions of Chinese-made smartphones to factories in Vietnam in 2020. But many components still have to come from the Chinese mainland – making Vietnam “more economically dependent upon China, not less”. This pattern plays out repeatedly across “factory Asia”. Given the “complex and intertwined structure of modern globalisation”, even partially reducing dependence on China is “much harder than it looks”.