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Beyond new frigates and security guarantees, however, Southeast Asian leaders have refrained from reacting too strongly to China's offshore ambitions.In only two decades, China has become Southeast Asian countries' leading economic partner, boosting its influence throughout the region. Since 2000, bilateral trade between China and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has grown tenfold, from $32 billion to $350 billion last year, and could reach $500 billion in 2015 . As China has risen to become Southeast Asia's largest trading partner, the U.S. has slipped to fourth place, with only $206 billion in total trade with ASEAN last year.From 1995 to 2003, Chinese companies invested a mere $631 million in ASEAN countries; in 2013, they invested $30 billion.China's Southeast Asian partners cannot afford to ignore these efforts. Clearly, when it comes to its role in Asia, China is thinking big.
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