This special issue is a preview of What to Watch in Asia in 2020, highlighting the key events, elections, and trends to watch in the region – all of which I’ll follow-up on in future issues. With media attention focused on the upcoming United States Presidential primaries and election, it is likely that Asia will get even less attention this year than 2019.
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You wouldn’t know it from the sparse US media attention, but 2019 was a big year for elections in Asia. Perhaps a billion people voted across the continent. The results were varied – authoritarian regimes cemented or gained power in India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka while incumbents held sway in Indonesia and Japan.
2020 won’t see as many citizens vote, but there are still several important elections approaching. Taiwan is first, with one of the few Presidential races in 2020, scheduled for 11 January. Currently, polls show incumbent Tsai Ing-Wen with a healthy lead. Chinese inference remains a concern.
Singapore, Sri Lanka and Mongolia will also all have parliamentary elections next year. Of those, Sri Lanka, where recently elected President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa seeks to cement control, will be worth watching.
Another important one to watch is Myanmar. Will Aung San Suu Kyi’s anti-media, Muslim, and increasingly authoritarian moves lead to losses for her National League for Democracy?
Also important are two state legislative elections in India, which will be closely watched to see if the ruling BJP faces backlash for its attempts to ram through controversial legislation such as the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which has caused widespread protests throughout the country.
One huge question – what will happen in Hong Kong? The protests show no sign of slowing down, even as police pressure increases. Will there be any regional spillover effects?
Will Chinese influence in the region continue to grow in countries like Thailand and Cambodia? Will there be any reaction to overreach in the South China Sea or with the Belt and Road Initiative?
Meanwhile, the Uyghur human rights crisis is starting to get more attention regionally, particularly in Muslim-majority nations in Southeast and Central Asia. In Indonesia, the powerful Majelis Ulama has called for action after months of silence, while in Malaysia has appointed a university to prepare a study on the abuses. Will this groundswell turn into a movement? My prediction – no country in Asia will stand up to China alone, but there’s a chance that several, if public pressure grows, stand up together.
Trade: Will RCEP negotiations finish? And what about the Japan-South Korea trade war? It could get messier.
Also worth watching
Asian Sports: The Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Japan will be he second of three consecutive Olympics Games in Asia, following the 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea and the 2022 Games to be held, bizarrely, in Beijing.
Kashmir and West Papua will likely remains in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. When will the internet shutdown in Kashmir end? Will West Papua see more protests and militarization?
Asia Undercovered: Journalist Nithin Coca's weekly roundup of the news, events, trends and people changing Asia, but not getting enough attention in the US media.