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It's 'Fifteen for '15' as Our Predictions for Asia's Year Ahead Return


Close, but not quite there: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif prior to closed-door nuclear talks at the Palais Coburg in Vienna on Nov. 23, 2014. Asia Society's Tom Nagorski predicts a nuclear deal will be signed in 2015. (Ronald Zak/AFP/Getty Images)

I would like to say "Back by popular demand…" but then that would be disingenuous at best. More like, "back because I am a glutton for humiliation." At any rate, what follows is the latest edition of my look at the year ahead in Asia, an Asia-centric version of a global forecast I used to do when I was a journalist. As I wrote the other day, last year's edition — "14 for 2014" — didn't go so well. I fell below the fifty-percent mark; and my crystal ball was only slightly better in the previous year's version. Now, with another broad array of interesting issues and challenges facing Asia, it's time for "15 for 2015," and I've learned at least one lesson: I should listen more closely to (and borrow more frequently from) other prognosticators.

We have no shortage of people in the Asia Society network with ideas and suggestions about what the next year will bring. The other night we hosted a panel on "Asia 2015," a whirlwind tour of the continent's near future. Eurasia Group CEO Ian Bremmer foresaw no deal between the U.S. and Iran; the Obama Administration, he said, was "prepared to extend and pretend" rather than break off the talks entirely. Asia Society President Josette Sheeran saw "transformative" good news on the economic front, in the form of a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement; and Ruchir Sharma of Morgan Stanley predicted "post-euphoria troubles" for Narendra Modi. All had interesting predictions about the impact of the plunge in oil prices: they would prove a "huge gift" to China (Bremmer), a worrisome development for the pursuit of cleaner energy sources (Sheeran), and a nightmare for Russia (all were aligned on that one, and of course that nightmare appears well underway already).

Others have chimed in to help us imagine the year ahead: our India Center Director sees China's GDP missing the 7% mark, and India clearing 7%; an Asia Society Trustee envisions a China-Philippines rapprochement at APEC; and ace Asia Society programmer James Kochien says, "Russia will become even more economically dependent on China, which is awkward for both." Three World Cups are to be held in 2015 — in rugby, cricket, and soccer. Ruchir Sharma predicts his native India will win the cricket crown; a guest at the panel the other night said Ireland would take the rugby crown (he was Irish, of course); and a contributor via Twitter wrote to say, "Japan and USA face off once more in 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup."

Perhaps the most creative forecast came from one Jamie Sawyer — also via Twitter: "Kim Jong Un watches the new movie The Interview and invites James Franco and Seth Rogen to North Korea for a diplomatic visit." (That was an unlikely one, even before Sony pulled the film. Though we suppose the North Korean leader might find a copy.) Frankly, if Franco and Rogen go to Pyongyang in 2015, then I just hope they'll come to an Asia Society forum soon after, and share their impressions.

All right, enough procrastinating. Now, the prognosticating. Below, with thanks to all the above, are my "15 for 2015." As you will see, for the most part it's an optimist's forecast.

  1. Finally, that Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal gets done. Arguably the greatest foreign-policy achievement of the Obama presidency. As Josette Sheeran says, "transformative."
  2. Doubling down on last year's good-news-in-Afghanistan bet. Ashraf Ghani proves a game-changer in terms of reining in corruption, and despite the doom-and-gloom of many outside security analysts, the number of Afghan casualties actually decreases following the departure of most foreign forces.
  3. Doubling down on the Iran deal, too. It's not everything John Kerry wanted — and it's filled with things that infuriate the Israelis and other opponents of a deal — but a nuclear deal is signed. Iran's economy gets a near-instant boost.
  4. Aung San Suu Kyi gets on the ballot — and wins the presidency in Myanmar. An almost Mandela-like transformation from prison to the presidency.
  5. China falls short of the 7% GDP mark.
  6. Not that it's a contest — and anyway, India starts from a lower baseline — but India clears the 7% GDP mark.
  7. North Korea conducts its first nuclear test in two years, bringing an unprecedented public rebuke from the Chinese leadership.
  8. The wreckage of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 is found — and the discovery sparks a fresh outcry over how long it took, and how much the search cost.
  9. After a year in which ISIS, Ukraine, and Ebola were the largely-unanticipated crises, 2015 brings a major cyberattack ("major," as in not just Sony and North Korea). Retaliation follows. It's the unexpected crisis of the year.
  10. A record number of Asians (more than five) win Nobel Prizes.
  11. After a pair of particularly difficult years on the natural-disaster front, the Philippines is largely spared — the lowest number of casualties from typhoons in decades.
  12. While we're on the Philippines, the APEC conference (to be held in Manila) has a major on-the-sidelines accomplishment: a meaningful easing of tensions between China and the Philippines in terms of their maritime disputes.
  13. Sport (1): India retains the global cricket crown.
  14. Sport (2): Japan and the U.S. square off in the Women's World Cup Soccer (football) final.
  15. Sport (3): Japan wins.

Season's greetings to all — and whatever happens with the above predictions, may 2015 bring you only happiness.


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