The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) was launched at the end of 2015. It is an ongoing project towards a single market and is envisioned to develop ASEAN into a competitive and global ASEAN. However, given the wide development gaps between member countries, combined with ASEAN's extremely weak institutional base, it is uncertain whether ASEAN will be able to realise its ambitious targets. As the largest trading partner of ASEAN, China vowed to further deepen China–ASEAN relations and render more support to the building of the ASEAN community through China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). For ASEAN, the important question is how China and its initiatives could assist ASEAN member states in achieving those development priorities. This article attempts to address these questions by analysing Chinese scholarly writings and different Southeast Asian views and concerns. It also explores China's evolving peripheral diplomacy with a focus on its foreign policy to Southeast Asia.