Core themes 2019-2020

Following up on its practices from 2016 to 2018, the LeidenAsiaCentre continues to organise its research projects within wider core themes. This allows projects to deal with specific questions in the context of related projects.

In 2019 and 2020, the LeidenAsiaCentre will focus on ‘connectivity’, meaning processes that link people, things, finances, and ideas across different spaces. Our projects will focus on three core themes: ‘Urban Connectivities’, ‘Regional Connectivities’, and ‘Intercontinental Connectivities’. Each of these themes zooms in on a specific context in which connectivity matters, and together they will provide an understanding of how different networks and interactions overlap in the Asian region and beyond. Technological advances in communication, transport, and logistics have brought this region closer together and connected it in novel ways with other places around the world. Advanced networked interactions have accelerated politics, societies, and economics. At the same time, these processes also challenge established dynamics between societal actors, and political projects across the region demonstrate this, as various stakeholders ambitiously try to recalibrate power in highly networked contexts. With our focus on connectivity, the LeidenAsiaCentre will shine a spotlight on these complexities, including the impact they have on more general concerns like diversity and inclusiveness. You can read more about the individual projects on the projects and publications page.

Theme 1: Urban Connectivities & Connectedness

Asia has urbanised at an unprecedented speed. Whether in India, China, or across Southeast Asia, rural and semi-rural regions are being transformed into new urban environments. At the same time, Asia’s metropolises are absorbing large numbers of rural and transnational migrants. New forms of governance are emerging, as actors tackle the challenge they now face: creating sustainable living in environments characterized by an unprecedented mobility, speed, and scale of people, goods, and ideas. One way forward has been to turn urban spaces into ‘smart cities’. This includes collecting and then leveraging digital data on urban interactions to improve services, optimize the use of scarce resources, reduce waste and energy consumption, and enhance communication and transportation systems. As such initiatives gain traction in Asia, they lead to top-of-the-line innovations in urban design and management that promise to change the social fabric in which they are applied, in turn creating new discussions about the sustainability, fairness, and social inclusivity of these initiatives (e.g. along the lines of the Human Cities Coalition). This raises three important questions about urbanization in the 21st century that the Leiden Asia Centre will explore: 1) how do stakeholders in urban economics and politics use smart designs and advanced ICT to govern the city? 2) What ideas inform the smart-city project, i.e. how do different actors (like government officials, artists, journalists, tech entrepreneurs, urban residents, as well as rural residents who are expected to live in smart cities in the future) make sense of these new urban Connectivities? 3) How does the smart city reshape rural and urban spaces, i.e. what (desired and undesired) incentives for behaviour do digitally enhanced ‘smart’ systems create, who benefits from these designs, but also: who is excluded? To explore these dynamics, the LAC will facilitate research on the following topics:

  • Creative Industries and Start-Ups in Asia
  • E-Governance and the Rise of Asia’s Smart Cities
  • Creating Urban Circular Economies in Asia
  • The Politics of Urban Architecture and Smart Space

Theme 2: Regional Connectivities

As some of the enthusiasm surrounding the ‘Asian Century’ makes way for detailed, sober assessments of intra-regional dynamics, actors in the region have tried to come to grips with their role in 21st Century Asia. Australia is repositioning itself as an important node in what it calls the ‘IndoPacific’, that is: the societies along the rapidly growing trade corridors that stretch across Northeast Asia, loop around the South China Sea and Indian Ocean, and extend across the Southern Pacific. Meanwhile, the Chinese government is heavily involved in trade, diplomacy, and security throughout the region, for instance through its Belt and Road Initiative; yet its activities have recently caused a backlash among potential partners, leading to new initiatives and alliances, involving, for instance, Japan and India. Within these shifting dynamics, how should we think about regional security and prosperity in Asia? How are actors like nation-states and private corporations challenged or supported in their regional efforts by non-traditional actors, such as city governments? What are the prospects for peace, for human security, and for sustainable development in the region?

  • Asian Responses to Chinese Diplomacy and China’s Belt and Road Initiative
  • Intercity Diplomacy in Asia: Refugees and the Right to Sanctuary
  • Tech Innovation in the Wake of US-Chinese Competition

Theme 3: Intercontinental Connectivities

Expanding its existing focus on Dutch-East Asian interactions, the LAC will take the logical next steps to explore how Asian societies and actors are positioning themselves within near-global networks, especially in relation to European partners. Asian-European relations, once seen as a ‘missing link’ in global affairs, are quickly becoming the new backbone of global networks. On the one hand, this is due to the retreat of an increasingly inward-looking United States government from many international institutions and interactions – a process that has left actors in its traditional sphere of influence, for instance Japan and Taiwan, with the challenge of redefining their role in a revamped security environment. On the other hand, such changes are in part linked to China’s increasing role in
the world, especially as the PRC continues to pursue its Belt and Road Initiative. This initiative reaches east from China across the Eurasian landmass and into Europe, but it also stretches to other continents, such as Africa and South America; the full extent and effect of China’s transcontinental efforts are still subject of much controversy. In the wake of these transformations, we are witnessing a profound change in traditional trade routes, investment channels, diplomatic ties, and transnational collaboration, which raises important questions: How do global concerns connect Europe and Asia in a multi-polar world, and how will EU-Asia relations shape global governance systems? What effect will the US-China trade war have on the relation between the EU and its many partners in the Asian
region? Are Connectivities between Asia and other regions simply a reflection of well-established geopolitical dynamics, or do they confront us with a new form of ‘geopolitics 2.0’ that require an update of how we think about global politics? And how will smaller countries position themselves visà-vis each other and Europe, as China steps up its own efforts to shape global governance in an interconnected world? To answer these questions, this theme will support cutting-edge research initiatives on the following topics:

  • Cybersecurity: European and Chinese Perspectives
  • The US-China Trade War: Effects on EU-Asia Relations and Global Institutions
  • The EU and the Indo-Pacific: Linkages, Opportunities, Challenges
  • Corporate Social Responsibility in EU-Vietnam Relations
  • Connecting China: New Relations in Africa and South America


In addition to its trusted range of current societal partners and stakeholder (MFA, Clingendael, The
Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, etc.), the LAC has sounded out several new, promising partners for
collaboration. This includes (in alphabetical order):

  • The Australian Institute for International Affairs (AIIA), Canberra.
  • Chatham House, London.
  • Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), Jakarta.
  • EU Centre in Singapore, Singapore.
  • Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), Berlin.

Read more about all our partners here.