By Simon Denyer, Washington Post
Kampong Phluk, Siem Reap, Cambodia, September 30, 2015
The thump of jackhammers and the whine of drills pierce the air, workmen in orange safety hats beaver away and a massive concrete wall rises slowly above the river.
Here, in lush northeastern Cambodia, the US$800 million Lower Sesan 2 Dam stands as a potent symbol of China’s growing reach, and Beijing’s ambitious plans to expand its influence across Asia by building desperately needed infrastructure.
Nearly 5,000 people are likely to be evicted from their villages when the dam’s reservoir fills, and almost 40,000 living along the banks of the Sesan and Srepok rivers stand to lose most of the fish they rely on for food, yet this project is part of a much larger Chinese ambition. President Xi Jinping is making a bold move, billed as the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, to restore what he sees as Beijing’s historic place at the centre of Asia.
China has a strategic vision to match its still considerable economic might, countering United States President Barack Obama’s foreign policy “rebalance” towards Asia with hundreds of billions of dollars of new investment of its own in its neighbours. Even as Xi this week arrives in the US for a historic visit, keen to be seen as Obama’s equal on the world stage, he is working behind the scenes to surpass America as Asia’s regional power.
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