Japan and the European Union have concluded a connectivity partnership that seeks to cement cooperation while setting global development standards. The wide-ranging initiative ratifies their commitment to building quality infrastructure in developing countries and to ensure that aid to those countries helps recipients, rather than saddling them with unsustainable debt. It also aims to fill a leadership gap created by the shrinking multilateral profile of the United States under President Donald Trump and to balance China's efforts in its Belt and Road initiative (BRI). Most importantly, it consolidates the Japan-EU partnership, a relationship that continues to assume greater significance.

Europe has concluded — rightfully — that its relations with Asia are weak. While there has been a Europe-Asia political dialogue (the ASEM meeting) since 1996, it has lacked substance. Europe has been more focused on security concerns closer to home along with domestic political developments. While the EU is a formidable economic force, it has never used that heft strategically.

That last failure assumes greater significance amid a push to develop infrastructure around the world. China has been instrumental in promoting that agenda. In 2013, it launched the BRI to link Europe and Asia, and its ambitions include Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia; some of its 60 projects extend as far as Latin America. China has said BRI spending will reach the trillions of dollars; not surprisingly, it has been endorsed by more than 150 countries and international organizations.