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Workshop "Constructing the 21st-Century Silk Road: Southeast Asia in the Race for Connectivity and Geopolitcal Interests", Freiburg, 4-5 July 2019

Connectivity has become the new buzzword in the development discourse. In Asia, the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (2010), followed by the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025, spearheaded the drive towards connectivity. In the meantime, connectivity schemes in the region have proliferated. By far most ambitious of these is China’s gigantic “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) or New Silk Road, but other countries such as Japan and India have also indicated their intention to invest massively in Asian infrastructure. In September and October 2018, the EU and the United States joined the fray with the EU Strategy “Connecting Europe and Asia” (European Commission 2018) and the American BUILD Act.

The envisaged workshop on Asian connectivity pursues a four-fold objective: First, it seeks to evaluate the developmental impact of the connectivity paradigm. In how far does the current connectivity drive in Asia contribute to inclusive and sustainable economic growth, what are the social and environmental collateral damages, and who stands to gain and lose? Is the envisioned connectivity a win-win endeavor (as frequently claimed by the Chinese government) and how equally are the resulting gains distributed across countries and regions? And finally, what guarantees that the current connectivity agenda generates more sustainable development than many of the ill-fated modernization theory-driven infrastructure development programs of the first two development decades in the 1960s and 1970s?

Second, apart from assessing developmental impacts, this workshop seeks to explore implicit geopolitical ideas and objectives of Asia’s connectivity schemes. Do connectivity schemes epitomize an intensifying strategic rivalry between the United States and a rising China? What role do other Asian great powers such as Japan and India play in this Indo-Pacific rivalry? How does this geopolitical tug-of-war affect ongoing efforts towards more inclusive and sustainable development?

Third, the workshop seeks to explore in how far the connectivity paradigm has repercussions on global and regional institutional architectures. To what extent does connectivity change multilateralism and global governance, what is its impact on the rules and parameters of cooperation, which have largely been defined by Western powers and their dominant voices in international financial institutions in the past? What effect does the formation of new international organizations such as the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) have on the nesting of international institutions? Does it give rise to competitive “forum shopping?” What effects do these dynamics have on economic growth and socio-economic development?

Fourth, and last, the workshop concentrates on Southeast Asia, a region in which great power competition has crystallized in recent years and that hence has become a theatre for competitive large-scale infrastructure projects. This immediately raises the question as to how these competing connectivity schemes of various external powers are compatible and how they affect ASEAN’s cohesion as a regional organization and its putative centrality in the region.

Participants of the workshop include well-known experts and area specialists that cover a broad thematic and regional expertise on Asian connectivity. The envisioned dialogue will bring together established scholars and early career researchers, who have devoted their research to contemporary connectivity issues and their developmental, geopolitical and institutional implications.

The workshop, supported by a grant of the global university consortium AC21, interconnects four AC21 member universities and seeks to stimulate future cooperative research in a field of study that is of great significance for Asia’s future.

Detailed program