This year has been a major shift for international relations. We have seen significant switch in the modes of diplomacy, negotiation, and most importantly, conduct of foreign policy. Examining and considering what we have seen in 2018, what can we expect in 2019? Here are some of the geopolitical events to watch closely in 2019.
This year, we saw Brexit plunges into chaos. In the United Kingdom, the country is divided deeply between those who support Remain and who support Leave. The Parliament cannot even agree on anything but one thing, that Theresa May has not been successful in delivering on Brexit. Now, only several days before Brexit’s “meaningful vote”, we are still puzzled with what options are actually on the table. An orderly Brexit is expected to not please many people, let alone a chaotic Brexit. As we are approaching the supposed Brexit Day, which is scheduled on March 29, 2019, more certainty is what we should have expected, other than more uncertainty in the air. Brexit will unquestionably change the course of Europe’s history, if not Britain’s history forever. One thing for sure, we can learn a lot from Brexit — and indeed, we have learnt a lot from Brexit.
France is another country to watch closely. Having faced the yellow vest protest all around the country for the past few days — if not three solid weeks, France is expecting a turmoil in its domestic politics in the weeks to come. Emanuel Macron, which is often labelled as the “President of the Rich” should expect a challenge in his leadership. Very progressive in action, his presidency is deemed by many as the only administration that can save France today. This is especially true given the fact that Macron’s opponent on both ends are hard-line and extreme supporters of left or right, and therefore Macron’s centrist approach is considered good for France. Well, France has shown the world a historic and dramatic victory of Macron just last year. If France is to show the world once again that liberal value is still suitable for the world, France must pass this challenge too.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel just announced that she will not seek reelection as a chancellor for the next term. Scheduled to still hold the seat until 2021, many are sceptical that Merkel will be able to stay in power until 2021 given the fact that many in her party, CDU, will seek to challenge her leadership. Having served as the longest serving chancellor in Germany if not in Europe, Merkel has stood up straight for four terms. Germany’s rising AfD party is of course a challenge for Germany’s democracy and politics. If Germany manages to show the world an orderly transfer of power from Merkel to its successor, Germany is expected to stand strong still in this hard situation.
Other countries in Europe to watch closely include Hungary, Poland, and Greece; all of which have been compromised by Chinese influence over investment in infrastructure. China through its investment project has managed to use it as a leverage in asking those countries to act in favor of China before the European Union in recent years. Portugal is another in the row to watch closely as China’s President Xi Jinping has just visited the country to strike considerably numerous bilateral deals with the country.
Italy and Spain are two other countries to watch closely for different reasons. Labelled as and expected to be “the new Greece”, Italy is a country worth scrutinizing in 2019. The victory of Italy’s Five Star Movement and Italy’s odds with the European Union over its draft budget are two things to take into account while examining Italy in 2019. As for Spain, the rise of a far-right party, Vox, in Spain’s region of Andalusia is worth scrutinising, along with independence movement in Catalonia.
2. China and its surrounding
China, world’s rising superpower and the new powerhouse in the planet, should be watched closely in 2019. Just over the weekend, China and India strike a deal in the resolution of border dispute between the two countries, a major setback in 2017 for the long-standing process to solve the dispute. India is another rising superpower that is expected to race with China, and even exceeds the country in 2040s. China’s firm role and strong grip on North Korea is another thing to watch closely as the US and North Korea are expected to continue the peace process as well as the denuclearization talks in 2019. China’s success in negotiating Code of Conduct in the South China Sea with its Southeast Asian counterparts which are grouped in ASEAN will be able to be assessed in 2019 too.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the grand strategy of investment to connect Asia and Europe through Eurasia corridor and the Indian Ocean should also be closely watched. This is especially true for countries in China’s string of pearls; Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Pakistan. It is also important to note the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project as it will play a great role in China’s quest to stand firm and strive through BRI. Movements by people in Hong Kong will also define the relationship between the SAR and the central government in the future. Taiwan’s general election in 2019 should also be watched closely as in Taiwan’s 2018 midterm election, the incumbent Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) faced a major defeat from the China-friendly Kuomintang Party (KMT). A major change in Taiwanese politics will change the course of relations between the island and Beijing.
3. Southeast Asia
The comeback of Mahathir to Malaysian politics as the oldest head of government in the world shocked many. Mahathir’s move to cancel the deal with China in building railway to Singapore is a bold move to consider when watching Malaysia in 2019. Singapore’s plan for an orderly transfer of power from Lee Hsien Loong, the son of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, to Heng Swee Keat — as major newspaper such as The Jakarta Post mentions, will shape the future of Singapore’s politics in the years to come as well.
Indonesia’s Joko Widodo will face a general election in 2019. Expected to win in a landslide of 60:30, Joko Widodo’s expected victory in 2019 will shape and have a say in Indonesian politics in the years to come. Flooded with populism as well as identity politics of extreme Islamist in the past two years — if not more, Indonesians will have a say on the politics and government’s performance under Joko Widodo’s administration in the past five years.
4. Black Sea
Russia, a declining power in world politics, have been able to compromise a lot in the course of world affairs since 2016 — a year many people do not want to talk about, as Donald Trump was named the president elect of the United States in November. Russia, trying to confront and create chaos in the Black Sea after previously annexed Crimea from Ukraine, is unfortunately facing soft words from world leaders. Divided by their own problems, world leaders have been slow and unresponsive to what happened in the Black Sea just recently. This show in the Black Sea will be one of the events to watch in 2019 — and wether or not Donald Trump will say anything about it next year after refusing to meet Putin during the last G20 Summit in Argentina.
5. The Middle East
Turkey, gaining ground in 2018 through many events in that year, is a country to closely watch in 2019. Having created a facade democracy in the country, Erdogan, the country leader won a referendum in 2017 and reelection in 2018. During the 2017 referendum, basically Erdogan used the “democratic” means to turn the country and the government into a autocracy with an authoritarian leader, where Erdogan is given the power to have control over many things, including the judiciary, and dissolve the parliament whenever he is not pleased. Erdogan’s Putin style of power grab — by switching his role as Prime Minister and President, is of a concern for the international community.
While his presidency is a stumbling block for Turkey’s bid for European Union’s membership, Erdogan’s gimmick in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) should be closely watched in the upcoming year. Additionally, Turkey’s meddling in the Middle East such as that of in Syria should be closely scrutinized, especially due to the fact that after the election of Donald Trump as US President, the US has been really soft to Russia in the Middle East, especially in Syria.
Bonus — the United States, especially on Trade War.
After meeting President Xi Jinping of China in the last G20 Summit in Argentina, President Donald Trump agreed for a 90 days truce between the United States and China in terms of the trade war. While Mike Pence reiterated US’ push for Indo-Pacific strategy during the latest APEC Summit in Papua New Guinea, Donald Trump is also working hard to materialize it, among the efforts is by revitalizing the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad between the US, Australia, Japan, and India. Trump’s mode of negotiation is seemingly working in several instances like with North Korea, China, and even Canada and Mexico. What remains to be seen is the success of Trump’s mode of negotiation with Iran, among other things.
The signing of US-Mexico-Canada Agreement or USMCA is among the things to watch closely in 2019 as the agreement outlines the prohibition to strike a deal with a non-market economy, which many would say is specifically targeting China. In 2019, we well see whether or not Trump’s foreign policy approach of maximum pressure is actually working.