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Face-to-face diplomacy gives China the edge in Southeast Asia

Videoconferences are no substitute for an old-fashioned tete-a-tete

| China
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, bump elbows with Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein during a meeting in Nanping on Apr. 1: the respect that Southeast Asian officials show China can seem like submission.   © Xinhua/AP

Ben Bland is the director of the Southeast Asia program at the Lowy Institute and the author of "Man of Contradictions: Joko Widodo and the Struggle to Remake Indonesia."

Calling China's pre-COVID-19 diplomacy in Southeast Asia sharp-elbowed is something of an understatement.

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