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Extract: Early China’s southward expansion over two millennia from its core zone north of the Yangtze River allowed it to engage nearby states. Regions along the Yangtze and in what is now southern China were gradually absorbed into an enlarging cultural sphere that was eventually integrated into China's imperial domain (basically by the third century B.C.E). Thereafter, when unified, dynastic China engaged Southeast Asia states with a relative but not absolute preponderance of power. China's linkages via diplomacy and trade led to it being at the core of a set of power relations that came to be formalized as the 'tribute system', though China was never an absolute hegemon of Southeast Asia as a whole.2 These perceptions have returned in new forms in the 21st century, with China's economic and military 'rise' being viewed at times as a return to its rightful, historic place, or at least a practical re-balancing of East Asian relations (Harris 2005; Stuart-Fox 2004; Shih 1993).