BEIJING -- In 2003, China formulated the "Peaceful Rise," a foreign policy framework for how it would re-emerge as an influential player in the new multilateral order. The most recent demonstration of how Beijing is putting this vision into practice is the ongoing four-nation tour to South Asia and the Asia-Pacific by China's vice president and potential future leader, Xi Jinping.
Xi has visited Bangladesh, Laos, New Zealand and Australia, with a separate visit to Myanmar promised in the near future. Taken together, the deals he has signed on the tour shed light on China's principal strategic objectives in one of its key foreign policy arenas. Beijing's emphasis on regional development further demonstrates the potential of its economy-first approach to diplomacy, which seems not only to meet key national objectives, but is also greatly strengthening its geopolitical standing and influence throughout the Southern Hemisphere.
China overtook India as Bangladesh's largest trading partner last year, and Dhaka was the first stop on Xi's itinerary. There, the Chinese delegation finalized a series of infrastructure, defense and trade deals, including components of a road, rail and port network that will give China direct access to the Bay of Bengal. Alongside the recent agreement to redevelop North Korea's Rajin port, which allows Chinese access to the Sea of Japan for the first time in more than 100 years, Beijing has substantially reduced its logistical dependence on a small number of Indian Ocean shipping lanes (.pdf) -- long seen as a vulnerability by Beijing's strategists.