Volume 24 (2019) / Issue 4
Connectivity is a new key concept in the European Union (EU)’s economic diplomacy towards Asia. In addition to infrastructure of all sorts, it comprises digital, economic regulatory and societal connectivity. The EU Commission promotes a ‘European way’ in its new Asia strategy, which emphasizes a sustainable, comprehensive and international rule-based approach. The connectivity strategy is not least an answer to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an enormous unregulated Eurasian infrastructure diplomacy project that has enabled China to become perceived as the EU’s systemic rival. This article analyses these three ‘European way’ dimensions to explore the potential of the connectivity strategy regarding the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). While ASEAN governments have become more cautious about China’s BRI, they also represent uneasy partners for the EU’s high-standards connectivity strategy. Leaning on the concept of hybrid interregionalism, this article argues that for a ‘European Way’ to emerge, the EU must coordinate its policies with key actors both within and as regards ASEAN, and especially with governments that share similar values, agreements and concerns regarding the BRI in the East Asian political economy.
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