Xi in Malaysia as China courts Southeast Asia

Xi in Malaysia as China courts Southeast Asia

KUALA LUMPUR - China's President Xi Jinping arrived in Malaysia Thursday, 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 the Asia-Pacific's premier international summits, held this year in Indonesia and Brunei.

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 curtail his own regional trip 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.

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