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Xi starts regional charm offensive

Kuala Lumpur AFP-JIJI

Chinese President Xi Jinping met Malaysia’s leader Friday as part of a Southeast Asia charm offensive ahead of key regional summits, with analysts saying he “had the floor to himself” after Barack Obama scrapped his Asia tour.

Xi’s visit to Malaysia and an earlier stop in Indonesia have taken on added significance with the White House’s admission that the president had canceled plans to visit the region.

During Xi’s stay, Malaysia and China plan to sign a five-year program for further economic and trade cooperation, after similar pledges were made during his stop in Indonesia.

With Beijing and Washington vying for influence in the strategic region, Obama had planned to get face time with regional leaders and rub shoulders with Xi at an Asia-Pacific summit in Bali next week. He also was to visit Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.

Analysts said the developments deal a potential blow to the Obama administration’s stated intention to concentrate more on Asia, where unease is rising over China’s growing might.