Beijing (AsiaNews) - After a reluctant handshake with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched a wide-ranging economic and diplomatic offensive at the APEC meeting currently underway in the Chinese capital.
The Communist leader has offered a truce with Japan, signed a commercial deal favourable to South Korea and reached out to Vietnam following recent territorial disputes.
For some analysts, this strategy is designed to elbow out the United States, or at least, curb its influence in the region.
President Xi Jinping's first meeting was with his South Korean counterpart Park Geun-hye this morning on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing.
China and South Korea have completed talks on a bilateral free trade agreement that will remove tariffs on more than 90 per cent of goods over the next two decades.
The trade pact will give South Korean carmakers easier access to the vast Chinese market. It is also expected to boost Chinese agricultural products to South Korea.
China is South Korea's largest trading partner. Bilateral trade between the two nations reached US$ 274 billion last year, and the two have vowed to increase it to US$ 300 billion by next year.
Indeed, Xi has offered trade deals to many of his guests. More importantly, China and Vietnam have agreed to handle maritime disputes through dialogue, Chinese state media reported, months after ties between the two countries hit a three-decade low.
Speaking about the issue, President Xi Jinping said the two Communist neighbours must respect each other and focus on long-term interests.
For his part, Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang noted his country was ready to "properly deal with maritime issues through friendly consultation so that the issues will not affect its relations with China".
In view of the existing high tensions in South-East Asia and Sino-Vietnamese relations, this is a genuine token of peace.
In recent years, Vietnam and the Philippines - which has taken its case to a UN court - have shown growing concern over China's imperialism in the South and East China Seas.
The Chinese government claims most of the sea (almost 85 per cent), including sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, in opposition to Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.
For the United States, which backs the claims of Southeast Asia nations, Beijing's so-called 'cow tongue' line is both "illegal" and "irrational".
Even Vietnam's bishops recently urged China to "convert to the Virgin of Fatima" for peace "in Asia and the world."
Still, China and the United States remains at odds over Asia's "new order". Beijing is trying to get a free trade agreement with all 21 APEC member countries (including the US), whilst Washington hopes to bolster its 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership proposal (which excludes China). In fact, US President Barack Obama arrived today in Beijing to try to counter Xi's actions.
The two leaders can count on trade relations worth US$ 562 billion, but their different positions on foreign policy and especially the continuing US call on China to adhere to international trade agreements have cooled the bilateral relationship over the past two years.
However, as some Chinese observers have noted, for many in Asia, Obama's political stature has also been considerably weakened since the Republican Party took control of the Senate in midterm elections this month.