10 December 2019

China’s Rise Is Not the Only Trend Shaping Events in Asia

Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, China has not shired away from asserting its authority in Asia. But while China’s rise often makes headlines, it is not the only trend shaping events in Asia. Learn more when you subscribe to World Politics Review (WPR).

Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, China has begun to challenge America’s role as the key economic and political actor in Asia. Increasingly repressive at home, Xi has not shied away from asserting China’s regional authority, positioning Beijing as the power broker on everything from trade routes to the ongoing efforts to denuclearize North Korea. China’s ascendance is also evident in how much attention other global powers are paying to Beijing and its policies. U.S. President Donald Trump launched a trade war with China and frets publicly about its influence. And with its Belt and Road Initiative, China’s influence is spreading well beyond Asia, into much of Africa and even Europe.

But while China’s rise often makes headlines, it is not the only trend shaping events in Asia. Nationalism has become a force in democracies like India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi rode the wave of Hindu nationalism to a massive victory in the country’s most recent parliamentary elections, and the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte’s electoral gains in midterm elections have left even fewer checks on his increasingly autocratic behavior. Meanwhile, Myanmar’s government continues its persecutions of Rohingya Muslims.

Though democracy has taken a hit across parts of the continent, South Korea and Japan continue to offer models of liberalism. Both face challenges, though, primarily of the economic variety. South Korea is attempting to tackle corruption while deepening its ties with other parts of the continent, and Japan’s government is hoping a new imperial era will mark a shift toward more economic opportunity. But an escalating trade war between the United States and China could actually darken the region’s economic prospects.

Regional flashpoints also remain. Tensions between India and Pakistan have risen again after aerial skirmishes that took place earlier this year. Afghanistan is still mired in violence despite the nearly two-decade-long presence of U.S. troops. And North Korea remains a wildcard.

WPR has covered Asia in detail and continues to examine key questions about what will happen next. Will the trade war with the United States deal a blow to China’s economic and political rise? How far will Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative stretch? Will the continental trend toward authoritarianism deepen? Below are some of the highlights of WPR’s coverage.

Voters in Hong Kong came out in droves in late November to hand pro-democracy candidates a resounding victory in local elections and deal the pro-Beijing camp a staggering defeat. Amid escalating protests and unrest, hopes were higher this year for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement in the district council elections—a vote that the pro-Beijing establishment has dominated in recent years. But this landslide victory still caught Beijing off guard.

PoliticsIt is a worrying period for democracy on the continent. Alongside the emerging authoritarianism in China and the Philippines, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has become increasingly regressive, and Thailand just installed the head of its military junta as prime minister. There are some glimmers of hope, though. In a landslide election last year, voters in the Maldives kicked out an increasingly authoritarian, China-backed regime and replaced it with a party that campaigned on eliminating corruption. And the protests in Hong Kong demonstrate that the appeal of democracy is still strong in the region.

The ongoing U.S.-China trade war has cast clouds over Asia’s economic outlook. Despite trouble spots, including South Korea and Japan, the continent as a whole had been projected to continue its steady development. That might change depending on how long the trade war lasts. Xi has already told the Chinese people to prepare for a contemporary "long march" to signal impending difficulties, but the potential impact on the rest of the region is still unclear.

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