Beijing – The European Commission came up with a new connectivity strategy on Wednesday that seeks to improve transport, energy and digital infrastructure links with Asia. While the approach is on how to bring "the European way," as European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini put it, the plan has ignited the interest of analysts who view it as a counter to China's Belt and Road initiative (BRI).
But even the European Commission itself refuted such a comparison. With developing Asian countries eager to embrace a much-needed financial injection to upgrade and improve their infrastructure, both the BRI and the EU's new plan can work toward this end. In this sense, the two schemes are partners rather than rivals.
Europe's engagement with Asia has a long history. In the 18th century, European maritime traders in Asia carried many of the goods that had traveled across Eurasia along the ancient Silk Road. The book Silk and Tea in the North: Scandinavian Trade and the Market for Asian Goods in Eighteenth-Century Europe by Swedish author Hanna Hodacs paints a rich canvas of European-Asian trade.
Nowadays the EU's relationship with Asia has extended from trade and investment to politics and security and Asia is on the EU's policy agenda. Already in 2016, the EU's Global Strategy suggests that the EU step up its engagement, noting the link between the region's security and prosperity and the increasing importance of a "connected Asia." Its latest connectivity strategy is a continuation of its Global Strategy to engage with Asia.
Even if some observers believe the plan is a counterweight to the BRI, it can still inject positive momentum into the Asian continent. Asia, the fastest growing economic region in the world, is estimated to need 1.3 trillion euros ($1.5 trillion) a year in infrastructure investment. All of this, however, cannot be met by China alone. Asia needs Europe as much as it needs China.
Since the EU and China are the two largest economic entities in Eurasia, it is vital that they steward the continent's economic development agenda. Some programs in the BRI have carried out cooperation with the European side on technology and equipment procurement.
What's more, it is worth remembering that the EU and China are shareholders in the stability of the region. There have been varying interpretations of the BRI, but there is no doubt that it serves the evolving global order, especially in the face of an American retreat from multilateralism.
Through joint cooperation via various platforms such as China's BRI and the EU's connectivity strategy, the two can instill stability in the global order and achieve their development goals.