The year is to begin on a positive note: the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th US president on Jan. 20.
Biden is in the restoration business. The US would quickly rejoin the Paris Agreement and the WHO. He would offer closer cooperation with allies in Europe and Asia and, as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout accelerates, he plans a big stimulus package to revive the US economy.
The appointments Biden makes to his cabinet presage a return to multilateralism and a reset of the rules-based international order. His flagship initiative is a new “alliance of democracies.”
This appears intended to counter China while avoiding head-on confrontation with Beijing. Ties with other authoritarian regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, would be frostier. New trade deals, such as that sought by the UK, are on hold pending a US recovery, he said.
Biden’s honeymoon will be brief. Unless Democrats win both runoff elections in Georgia tomorrow and gain control of the US Senate, the president-elect might struggle to make his legislative mark.
He must contend with a conservative-dominated supreme court where a battle looms over abortion rights. Those hoping for swift action on police violence, and racism in general, might be disappointed — and might turn against him.
Biden faces three personal political challenges this year: the “stolen election” myth peddled by US President Donald Trump, who — if he stays out of jail — would use TV platforms and his fan base to delegitimize his successor; leftwing Democrats opposed to his centrist policies; and nagging questions about his health, which, at the age of 78, could become a distraction.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who turns 67 next month and is celebrating 20 years since he founded the ruling Justice and Development Party, is the archetypal elected “strongman.”
The global power struggle between such leaders and reformist, pro-democracy forces from Peru and Thailand to Belarus and Hong Kong will characterize this year.
Like many such leaders, Erdogan runs an aggressive foreign policy intended to whip up nationalist-patriotic sentiment and distract from domestic problems. Thus the year would see more violence against Kurds in Syria and more Turkish meddling in Libya, the Balkans and the Caucasus.
Yet Trump’s departure, and Biden’s less sympathetic approach, might encourage Erdogan to patch up relations with the EU, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Copycat authoritarians seem unbowed despite the loss of the defeated US president’s patronage. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman might soon succeed the ailing 85-year-old King Salman. At least the prince does not pretend to be a democrat.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi claims a bogus mandate for ever more repressive, incompetent rule, as do Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
None of them will have it all their own way this year.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is another elected autocrat who has successfully replicated the populist majoritarian model. Modi, too, might face growing domestic pushback this year.
The success of such leaders arises in part from western connivance, indifference or realpolitik. Notwithstanding Biden, there is scant reason to believe this will change significantly.
Syria’s catastrophic civil war will be 10 years old in March. Its cities have been destroyed, its people killed or displaced in their millions, and yet still Syrian President Bashar al-Assad survives.
Pressure to prosecute him and other war criminals would grow this year, but al-Assad can still count on Russia and Iran to protect him.
A final military push this spring in Idlib, the last province outside regime control, threatens a new refugee catastrophe.
This year will also mark 20 years of war in Afghanistan, dating back to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Peace talks between the government and Taliban would probably stumble on, even as fighting escalates.
Biden wants to get out, but would not do so without a credible peace deal. As the Taliban pushes for total victory, that might prove as elusive as ever — and as ever, neighbors and rivals India and Pakistan would try to shape any settlement.
For people living in other conflict zones, this year would be a year of living dangerously.
Hopes are rising that another “forever war,” in Libya, might be nearer resolution after a ceasefire was agreed last autumn. If all goes well, elections could be held this year, but the country remains a proxy battleground for regional states.
The Yemen conflict could also begin to wind down if, as pledged, Biden obliges Saudi Arabia to pull back. Meanwhile, Ethiopia enters this year fighting a pointless “whatever war” in Tigray.
It has been four years this month since a young political upstart, French President Emmanuel Macron, narrowly won the first round of France’s presidential election and went on to seize the Elysee Palace.
In April 2022, Macron would face voters again. Prominent among the issues on which he would be judged would be his record as a champion of French secularism — laicite — and his handling of Islamist terrorism and “separatism.”
Unlike other western leaders, Macron offers an ideological rebuttal of extremists’ attempts to divide people by religious belief, upholding the egalitarian, republican principle of universal citizenship.
Critics say his stance has provoked militants. France has suffered a string of attacks by individuals or small terror cells. This year might bring similar horrors there and elsewhere.
Overall, the frequency of Islamist terror attacks in Europe declined last year, according to the Global Terrorism Index, and this downward trend might continue this year.
Syria, Iraq and the wider Arab world have also seen reduced Islamist violence. The main focus this year, especially for Islamic State affiliates, would be sub-Saharan Africa, notably Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Mozambique, Niger and northern Nigeria, where a resurgent Boko Haram has been terrorizing rural areas.
The coming year might also see a continuation of recent increases in far-right and white supremacist violence in Europe and the US, where it has become a bigger threat than jihadism. The rise, fanned by populist politicians and fueled by social alienation, inequality, poor education and racial hatred, could be exacerbated by the pandemic.
Britain faces a daunting triple challenge this year: halting the COVID-19 nightmare while attempting an economic recovery; dealing with post-Brexit chaos; and avoiding a constitutional crisis and the breakup of the UK.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would play a key role in all three dramas, but it is the latter — her Scottish National Party’s drive for independence — that might dominate as the year goes on.
If, as expected, the party sweeps to victory in May’s Scottish parliament elections, the drive for a second referendum would be on, but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists that he would not allow another vote.
No one knows what might happen then.
Some point to Catalonia, which held an independence referendum in 2017 in defiance of Spain’s government. That ended badly.
Sturgeon is popular, but many Scots say health and the post-Brexit, post-COVID-19 economy are more pressing issues than independence.
Johnson would face more political storms. This year will be Britain’s first fully outside the EU since 1973, and the country looks chronically unprepared. His mishandling of the pandemic destroyed Johnson’s public standing. This year would be a bumpy one for him.
Iran’s presidential election on June 18 and the departure of two-term incumbent, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who cannot stand again, could be a turning point for the Middle East.
Rouhani was a disappointment. He failed to deliver promised reforms and oversaw a period of domestic repression and economic recession caused by COVID-19, corruption and US sanctions. At least he was not against dialogue with the West.
That window is closing. The discrediting of Rouhani’s moderate, pragmatic approach has given Iran’s diehard anti-Western conservatives and military chiefs their chance. If their candidate (no one has yet been selected) wins the presidency, it could scupper hopes of a fresh start with Tehran.
Hossein Dehghan, a top Revolutionary Guard Corps commander and adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is a hot tip.
Much hinges region-wide on the character of the post-Rouhani era. Iran’s confrontation with Israel, waged through proxies in Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, might intensify if hardliners take charge. So, too, could the regional contest with the Arab Gulf states as Saudi Arabia debates whether to follow the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in making peace with Israel.
Iran’s moderates hope an early offer of sanctions relief from Biden will turn the election their way.
This year might see another big Middle East moment: the political demise of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, who faces bribery and fraud charges and whose governing coalition is tottering.
Yet no matter who succeeds him, there might be further erosion of Palestinian hopes of an independent state as more Arab countries cut deals with Israel and each other.
July marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party by, among others, former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東).
China’s modern-day Mao, de facto president-for-life Xi Jinping (習近平), exercises possibly even greater personal power. Under his direction, China has moved from “peaceful rise” to aggressive would-be hegemon. This year would see increasingly coordinated Western push-back.
China’s attempts to bully middle-ranking countries such as Australia and Canada by taking hostages and blocking imports, its sneering contempt for declining post-colonial European powers such as the UK, and its new willingness to defy major competitors such as India and the US presages a tough year of deepening friction on a wide range of fronts.
Flashpoints include Beijing’s attacks on democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwan; its military buildup, especially in the South China Sea and Himalayas; human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet; the global expansion of Chinese technology companies such as Huawei; Western trade sanctions and protectionism; and strategic competition for resources and influence in Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America — as well as in outer space.
The intense debate in Britain about engagement with China — specifically over Chinese investment in critical security infrastructure such as communications and nuclear power — would be mirrored across Europe, where Beijing is wooing disaffected EU members and non-EU Balkan countries such as Serbia.
Biden says he wants to cool things down, but he would not lift sanctions until the US economy is stronger and US-led coalitions are assembled to play Beijing at its own global game.
The rescheduled 2020 Olympics — the ultimate symbol and practical manifestation of one-world internationalism — are to reach a climax in Tokyo in August, assuming the Games are not delayed again.
The spirit of global cooperation will be needed more than ever this year as the world struggles to recover from the pandemic. Leading the comeback fight is UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Wealthier countries might find their own ways to escape COVID-19, but it falls to Guterres and the UN’s agencies to try to ensure everyone else is eventually safe. A record 235 million people would need humanitarian assistance and protection this year, a 40 percent increase that the UN attributes almost entirely to COVID-19.
The world must “stand with people in their darkest hour of need,” said Guterres, who wants US$35 billion to pay for it.
Unfair competition for effective, affordable vaccines might hinder that aim. The independent People’s Vaccine Alliance predicts people in up to 70 lower-income countries will lose out in this year’s coming “vaccine race.”
The Norwegian Refugee Council estimates that 40 million people are at increased risk of discrimination and rights abuses, including human trafficking and child recruitment — part of a COVID-19-created “coping crisis.” The number of refugees settled in safe countries is at a record low.
All this comes on top of existing challenges such as water shortages that would affect more than 3 billion people this year, half of them severely, as a result of rising demand and climate breakdown.
Six countries — Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen — face famine this year.
Federal elections in September would mark the political retirement of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has held the post since 2005 and is the first woman to do so.
Her departure would be a watershed for Germany and Europe. The race to succeed her as leader of the Christian Democrats would climax this month.
September’s elections could bring big changes. Attention would focus in particular on the Greens and the far-right Alternative for Germany.
The loss of Merkel as a steadying, unifying influence would be felt keenly within the EU, especially on touchstone issues such as eurozone alignment, Europe’s budget and NATO.
Macron champions a vision of a stronger, more integrated “global Europe” that fights for its values and interests. Merkel often applied a brake. As she bows out and French elections approach, Franco-German tensions might spill into the open.
Support for European far-right populist parties has appeared to slip of late, but they would remain an important factor this year, not least in the unresolved debate over migration.
In successfully defying the Brussels commission on rule of law and gender and media freedom issues, the illiberal Polish and Hungarian governments set a bad example that others might follow.
With a new US administration focused primarily on domestic problems, with China’s tanks metaphorically parked on its lawn, and with Russia playing the neighbor from hell, Europe faces a year of challenges that could further test its unity.
Does it throw itself back into Washington’s arms, try to hold the ring between the US and China, or go it alone? Does it create a “two-speed” EU? These big questions could nevertheless be overshadowed by the extended battle against COVID-19 and, to a lesser degree, fallout from the Brexit fiasco.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was born in St Petersburg, then Leningrad, on Oct. 7, 1952, 35 years after the October Revolution that eventually produced the Soviet Union. This year marks 30 years since the USSR imploded.
The former KGB spook has spent his political career since 1999 as prime minister and president, trying — and failing — to resurrect the Soviet empire. Putin might need a second October revolution to hold present-day Russia together.
He appears secure after a rigged constitutional referendum theoretically allowed him two more six-year presidential terms, but Putin looks tired and isolated. He has cut himself off during the pandemic. His popularity is falling. Oil revenue, Russia’s life-blood, has plunged.
He and his allies face difficult parliamentary elections in September amid mounting economic problems and unrest in Russia’s far east.
The bungled attempt to poison Putin’s best-known challenger, Alexei Navalny, strengthened domestic opposition. Meanwhile, Putin’s efforts to reconquer Russia’s “near abroad” are unravelling.
Belarus’ popular uprising refuses to be quelled. Anti-Moscow, pro-democracy sentiment is strong in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Ukraine. The recent Armenia-Azerbaijan war exposed the limits of Russian power. Syria is a quagmire he cannot escape.
After two decades of land-grabs, assassinations, rampant corruption and subversion, Putin has few international allies. Russia is under EU and US sanctions. Trump, always oddly deferential, is gone. Western countries mostly regard Putin with fear and loathing.
Talk of a military alliance with China reflects his weakness. In short, he looks vulnerable. In October, Russia is to send its first spacecraft to the moon in 45 years. Perhaps Putin should get on it.
The UK is to host the UN’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November, hoping to give fresh impetus to the 2015 Paris Agreement. It would not be a moment too soon. Human beings continue to inflict extraordinary damage on the planet, Guterres said.
“Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes,” he said.
He wants all governments to declare a state of climate emergency this year.
At the forefront of humankind’s “suicidal war on nature” is Brazil’s right-wing populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, who epitomizes climate change denial at its most destructive.
Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, a vital carbon store that slows global warming, is at its highest level for more than a decade — and has accelerated since Bolsonaro took office in 2019. Such environmental hooliganism might get worse this year.
Yet there are encouraging signs. The UK would ask other countries to match or beat its pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 68 percent by 2030. The appointment of political heavyweight John Kerry as “climate tsar” suggests the US is fully back on board.
In rejoining the Paris Agreement, Biden promises the US would achieve net zero emissions by 2050. China has set 2060 as its target and says emissions would peak before 2030. Others would take their cue.
This year would nevertheless see a speeding up of the race against time that is the climate crisis. Attempts to “build back greener” post-pandemic would collide with vested economic interests. Holding politicians to their climate word, and shaming the likes of Bolsonaro, is perhaps this year’s most urgent challenge.
It will be exactly 10 years in December since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un succeeded his father, Kim Jong-il. Trump’s vainglorious efforts to cut a deal with Kim Jong-un to end his UN-proscribed nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles programs flopped, but Biden lacks new ideas.
A worrying question for this year: Will Kim Jong-un resume nuclear testing?
Even bigger, additional challenges over nuclear proliferation would arise this year. Fears that Iran is trying to acquire an atomic bomb might grow, particularly in nuclear-armed Israel. Saudi Arabia might seek parallel nuclear capability in response.
Meanwhile, continuing border tensions between nuclear weapons states China and India, and between India and Pakistan, are cause for heightened concern.
Biden aims to extend the New START strategic weapons limitation protocol with Moscow that expires next month. Neither Biden nor anyone else is offering to denuclearize this year.
Most UN member states have ratified a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons that comes into force on Jan. 22. It lacks teeth, but it is a hopeful step.
If social media interaction is any yardstick, India remained one of the top countries for Taiwan last year. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has on several occasions expressed enthusiasm to strengthen cooperation with India, one of the 18 target nations in her administration’s New Southbound Policy. The past year was instrumental in fostering Taiwan-India ties and will be remembered for accelerated momentum in bilateral relations. However, most of it has been confined to civil society circles. Even though Taiwan launched its southbound policy in 2016, the potential of Taiwan-India engagement remains underutilized. It is crucial to identify what is obstructing greater momentum
In terms of the economic outlook for the semiconductor industry, Taiwan has outperformed the rest of the world for three consecutive years. This is quite rare. In addition, Taiwan has been playing an important role in the US-China technology dispute, and both want Taiwan on their side, reflecting the remaking of the nation’s semiconductor industry. Under the leadership of — above all — Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the industry as a whole has shifted from a focus on capacity to a focus on quality, as companies now have to be able to provide integration of hardware and software, as well as
US President Joe Biden’s foreign policy on China and the Indo-Pacific region will have huge repercussions for Taiwan. The US Department of State in the final weeks of former US president Donald Trump’s term took several actions clearly aimed to push Biden’s foreign policy to build on Trump’s achievements. Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s announcement on the final day of the Trump administration that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was committing “genocide and crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang was welcome, but comes far too late. The recent dropping of “self-imposed” restrictions on meetings between Taiwanese and US officials was
In memory of Diane Baker: one of the last working dance journalists, a true dance aficionado and dear friend. On Friday, through a mutual friend, I received the shocking news that dance critic Diane Baker had passed away suddenly at her apartment in Tianmu, Taipei. The news quickly spread, and messages of concern quickly swarmed in from the dance community in Taiwan and abroad. Her sister Sharon in the US later confirmed that Diane died of a heart attack on Wednesday last week. She was 65. Diane was a dear friend to Taiwan’s dance community. Her frequent appearance at dance performances in