China has already tried to secure Southeast Asia's minerals and river water by investing in its infrastructure. It also sees the growing region as a frontier for Chinese companies cramped by competition at home.
But Chinese smartphone brands are not flying the red flag, just their own names. Flare-ups like last week's in Vietnam inevitably slow sales of merchandise associated with China. Southeast Asian governments will keep resisting Beijing's maritime expansion and, like Myanmar, diversify sources of investment to avoid depending on a foreign power that threatens local resources or sovereignty.
Hostile toward China for decades, Vietnamese consumers prefer to save for iPhones, says Carmen Le, general manager at Vero Public Relations in Ho Chi Minh City. Those who can't save go with Chinese brands. "People carry Apples," Le says. "No one is impressed with a phone from China."
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