Lye Liang Fook

Lye Liang Fook

Senior Fellow, ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute

Mr Lye Liang Fook is Senior Fellow at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. His research interests cover China-ASEAN relations as well as China-Singapore relations, including the Suzhou Industrial Park - the first government-to-government project between Singapore and China and developments on the Tianjin Eco-city and Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, the second and third flagship projects between the two countries.

A screen shot from a video featuring Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China, awarding Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, the Friendship Medal of the People's Republic of China during a ceremony held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, on 31 October 2022. (Internet)

China-Vietnam party-to-party ties: A tie that binds

Vietnam appears to be drawing closer to the US with the recent upgrade in ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership. This development, however, should not be overestimated as Vietnam-China relations, especially party-to-party ties, remain strong.
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi gestures during a meeting with Cambodia's Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn at the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in Phnom Penh on 13 August 2023. (AFP)

Chinese FM Wang Yi’s Southeast Asia visit: Did China achieve its objectives?

Wang Yi travelled to Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia in his first foreign visit after his re-appointment as foreign minister, underscoring Beijing’s strong commitment to Southeast Asia. The visit was also possibly meant to highlight continuity and absence of disruption to China’s foreign relations and its Southeast Asia policy following Qin Gang’s removal as foreign minister. ISEAS researcher Lye Liang Fook says that while China may be attempting to dictate how Southeast Asia should act, it should recognise that the region has the "capability and wisdom" to do what is right while keeping positive ties with all of its significant partners.
This handout photo taken and released by Cambodia's Government Cabinet on 13 August 2023 shows Cambodia's prime minister-designate Hun Manet (right) shaking hands with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh. (Kok KY/Cambodia's Government Cabinet/AFP)

Beijing will stay the course on Southeast Asia despite personnel changes in foreign ministry

Recent top-level changes at China’s foreign ministry are unlikely to affect Beijing’s foreign policy orientation towards Southeast Asia. The region remains important in light of China’s difficult relationship with the US and other key countries.
Vietnam's Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong (C) walks with Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh (R) and National Assembly Chairman Vuong Dinh Hue (L) as they attend the opening of the National Assembly's autumn session in Hanoi on 20 October 2022. (Nhac Nguyen/AFP)

Vietnam not veering closer to the US or China

It is not in Vietnam’s national interest to be overly dependent on China or the US. Hanoi is expected to continue to press ahead with efforts to build on its ties with the two major powers as part of its multi-directional foreign policy. There are, however, limits to both approaches. Given General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong's health situation, a physical trip to the US may not be feasible, and any diplomacy might have to be carried out long distance.
This handout photo taken on 13 January 2021 by Indonesia's Ministry of Maritime and Investment Affairs shows Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (left) meeting with Indonesian Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investments Minister Luhut Pandjaitan in Parapat, on the edge of Lake Toba in North Sumatra, to discuss cooperation on investments. (Handout/Ministry of Maritime and Investment Affairs/AFP)

Wang Yi’s Southeast Asia tour: How China woos Southeast Asia in view of US-China competition

In January 2021, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited several ASEAN countries, including Brunei, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines, in an effort to push for collaboration in key projects under the BRI, and providing access to Chinese vaccines. However, Beijing’s passage of a new coastguard law has undermined Wang Yi’s outreach efforts. ISEAS academic Lye Liang Fook explains what is behind China's efforts and looks into its implications.
This picture taken and released on 30 October 2020 by the Vietnam News Agency shows Vietnam's Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh (R) bumping elbows to greet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before a meeting in Hanoi. (Bui Lam Khanh/Vietnam News Agency/AFP)

Overzealous attempts by China and the US to sway Southeast Asia countries counterproductive

Southeast Asian countries prefer a healthy balance of power between major powers in the region. This is often overlooked by China and the US, which want them to take a stand on issues of concern. ISEAS academic Lye Liang Fook suggests that recent attempts by China and the US to gain support from certain Southeast Asian countries may, in fact, drive them away.
Motorcyclists wearing protective masks sit in traffic in Hanoi, Vietnam, 18 September 2020. (Linh Pham/Bloomberg)

China’s Southeast Asian charm offensive: Is it working?

China has embarked on another round of “charm offensive” in Southeast Asia. In recent weeks, senior Chinese officials have stepped up their visits to Southeast Asia amid worsening US-China relations. It is clear that Beijing is trying to prevent Southeast Asia from veering too close to the US. However, China’s latest overtures have had mixed results — while Southeast Asia value diversification in their external relations, they are increasingly concerned with China’s actions in the South China Sea.
20 August 2020: Yang (left) visited the Deng Xiaoping Marker at ACM Green, which commemorates Deng’s landmark visit to Singapore in 1978 and his contributions to the friendship between Singapore and China. (SPH)

Yang Jiechi’s Singapore visit: Seeking strategic space

China appears to be making a concerted effort to reach out to friendlier countries in an effort to draw them closer. Yang Jiechi, who is a Politburo member and director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, is visiting Singapore and South Korea this week. ISEAS academic Lye Liang Fook thinks that both China and Singapore are seeking to broaden their strategic space amid a more unpredictable and precarious world.
Cambodian soldiers carry aid including medical equipment from China, to be used to combat the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at Phnom Penh International Airport in Phnom Penh, 25 April 2020. (Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP)

China's aid to Southeast Asia amid adversity — a sign of deeper cooperation ahead? 

Even as China continues to handle the coronavirus, it is extending aid to other countries, not least in Southeast Asia. ISEAS academic Lye Liang Fook traces China's efforts to engage ASEAN in building a "community with a shared future". Does that point to better relations between ASEAN member states and China?