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Lecture | International Relations Seminar Series

Pushing back against China: new Asian governments challenge the region’s balance of power

  • Stefania Palma (Financial Times correspondent Singapore)
Monday 10 December 2018
International Relations Seminar Series
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

A newly elected government in Malaysia that unexpectedly came to power in May has shaken up the balance of power in Asia. In suspending or cancelling more than $20bn in China-backed infrastructure projects, Malaysia has become the first south-east Asian country of its stature to push back so vocally against China and its Belt and Road Initiative, a move that could galvanise others in the region to do the same. 

A second recently elected government in Asia, Pakistan also announced plans to review or renegotiate agreements reached under the BRI, that Islamabad says unfairly benefits Chinese companies. This would be a devastating blow to China's infrastructure initiative, a key portion of which - the $62bn China-Pakistan Economic Corridor - is being rolled out in the south Asian country. 

These push-backs have piled onto existing malaise in Sri Lanka, which leased out its Hambantota port to China after Colombo was no longer able to service debt obligations; and onto a number of Asian countries along the BRI that are on the brink of debt crises after building up unsustainable levels of leverage. 

So, how can we make sense of these developments? What are China's options and how has it responded to this defiance? Does China risk losing ground in the region as the United States so keenly promotes its new Indo-Pacific strategy launched by the Trump administration? These are some of the questions that this talk will seek to shed light on.   


Stefania Palma is the Financial Times Singapore correspondent covering the city state, Malaysia and Indonesia. Travelling extensively across these markets, she reports on local economics, politics, finance and social issues. 

Prior to joining the Financial Times, she was Asia Editor at The Banker magazine. In that role, she reported from across Asia-Pacific interviewing finance ministers, central bank governors, bank CEOs and economists. 

She read for a MPhil in Modern Chinese Studies at the University of Oxford, during which she completed archival research and a language exchange at Peking University (北京大学). She has a bachelor's degree in Economics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, UK, where she first started studying Mandarin Chinese.  

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