The Communist Party of China’s leadership aspirations of becoming a ‘strong Internet power’ (wanglou qiangguo 网络强国) has driven an organisational restructuring within the Party and government, and a raft of legislations since Xi Jinping became Party general secretary in 2012. This has also manifested itself in China’s foreign policy and economic diplomacy through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Internet Plus plan, and is most visible in its engagement with ASEAN. China’s diplomatic engagement with ASEAN on cyber issues has deepened through the set-up of bilateral institutions designed to foster cooperation and investment in digital connectivity, Internet governance, and e-commerce. Chinese Internet companies too have bet big on the region through investments and partnerships with Southeast Asian companies in e-commerce, digital finance, gaming, and cloud computing, among other things. This presents a number of economic opportunities for the region to leapfrog stages in digital connectivity and technology but also poses political and strategic challenges to ASEAN that need to be acknowledged and addressed sooner rather than later.
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