13 Fearless Predictions About Asia in 2019

2018 has been an eventful year across Asia, but in a little over three weeks it'll be over. What's in store for the region in 2019? We asked members of the Asia Society family to tell us.

Hassan Abbas — Senior Advisor and Bernard Schwartz Fellow, Asia Society; Professor of International Security Studies at National Defense University's College of International Security Affairs  

After U.S-led back-channel negotiations involving the Taliban, Kabul, and Islamabad, a truce with Taliban will be announced offering Taliban participation in the next Afghan elections. Some disgruntled and hardline Taliban factions will continue to operate violently, but prospects of a peaceful Afghan settlement will look promising. Consequently, both India and Pakistan will also restart peace talks to normalize relations.

Amir Farmanesh — Founder and CEO, People Analytics; Asia 21 Young Leader Class of '18

Iran will remain in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regardless of the European Union’s lack of ability to offer much in return. The EU will finally set up a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for Iran, but it will not be practical for Iran to use it in a significant, meaningful way. Nevertheless, the SPV will act as the beginning of an independent European financial vehicle with a promise of weakening the almost-monopolistic role of the U.S. in international finance.

Sawako Hidaka — Executive Director, Asia Society Japan

Blade Runner, the 1982 film starring Harrison Ford and featuring flying taxis in operation, was set in 2019. Will reality catch up to fiction? In preparation for Tokyo's Summer Olympics Games in 2020, the Japanese government and ground transportation industry will test flying taxis to ferry athletes and Olympic officials in an effort to avoid traffic jams. The vehicles will incorporate artificial intelligence with Japanese Omotenashi and robotics technology.

Anthony Jackson — Vice President, Education, and Director, Center for Global Education at Asia Society

In results released this past year on the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) administered by OECD, Asian nations once again dominated the top rankings for science, mathematics, and reading achievement among 15-year-old students worldwide. Yet those Asian nations taking the first ever supplement assessment of global competence were dismayed to find their students were often much less adept at understanding world issues and problems, empathizing with and recognizing the perspectives of others, and communicating across cultural divides — all skills required to prosper within a global economy and to thrive within increasingly diverse workplaces and communities.

In 2019, countries from across Asia will call for a “second revolution” in education to focus not only on core academic knowledge but on developing the global skills and dispositions needed in today’s interconnected world.

Susan Jakes — Editor, ChinaFile

Even if the truce between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump over tariffs in Argentina elicited sighs of relief around the world, trade tensions between the two countries aren’t going anywhere. The structural issues in the trade relationship — on forced tech transfers, intellectual property, etc — remain unchanged, and the politics around the U.S.’s posture toward China on trade are susceptible to a whole host of domestic political factors in the U.S. related to the beginning of the 2020 electoral cycle.

Will Trump have the stomach for policies that will cause — at the very least — short-term economic pain, in the service of getting tough with China? Will a grand bargain be a selling point for him as a candidate? Or will it be more useful to have China to blame for the gap between his 2016 campaign promises on the economy and the reality since he assumed office? Look for this whole trade picture to get a lot more complicated in 2019 and for it to bring a host of other parts of U.S.-China relations along with it.

Jonathan Karp — Executive Director, Asia Society Southern California

Robert Mueller — or investigations spawned by his Russia probe — will reveal a number of other significant foreign meddlers in the 2016 U.S. election. All of them will be countries or actors in Asia, from the Mediterranean to the Pacific.

Alice Mong — Executive Director, Asia Society Hong Kong

Following its sizeable loss in Taiwan’s election this past November, the Democratic Progressive Party and President Tsai Ing-wen will explore channels of cooperation with China in the new year in the areas of tourism and trade. The newly elected mayor of Kaohsiung, Han Kuo-yu, will make his first overseas visit to China to court Chinese "green" manufacturers to set up production in his city.

Paul Rivera — CEO and Co-Founder, Kalibrr and Asia 21 Young Leader Class of '18

A central bank in Asia — my bet is either China or Singapore — will publicly state that they are holding bitcoin as a reserve currency, sending the price of bitcoin skyrocketing and setting the stage for a massive transformation of the world economy. The dollar will no longer reign supreme as the world's only reserve currency.

Daniel Russel — Vice President for International Security and Diplomacy, Asia Society Policy Institute

It’s hard to see getting through 2019 without a crisis on the Korean Peninsula. Despite the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore last June, the promised negotiating process has failed to materialize. A projected second summit early in the year is unlikely to bridge the wide gulf between American and North Korean positions on denuclearization.

The U.S.-South Korean defense exercise, Foal Eagle, is scheduled to take place in the spring and North Korea is threatening to resume testing. Coupled with significant tensions between the U.S. and China and diverging strategies between Washington and Seoul, we should expect a spike in tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Orville Schell — Arthur Ross Director, Center on U.S.-China Relations

A global economic downturn could end up being China's biggest challenge since 1989.

Matt Schiavenza — Assistant Director, Content at Asia Society

Eager for good publicity during a different patch politically, President Trump will invite Kim Jong Un for a follow-up summit in Washington — marking the first time a North Korean leader will have set foot in the United States. The gathering will be a bizarre spectacle, and both Trump and Kim will subsequently boast of its success. But little in the fundamental relationship between North Korea and the United States will change.

Kunal Shah — Director, Data Strategy and Information Management, Asia Society

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be re-elected with a much larger majority during national elections in India. But what will be particularly noteworthy is the big upswing in the Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) vote share as well as vote numbers from rural India. BJP was, until now, mostly considered an “urban” party.

Sanjeev Sherchan — Executive Director, Global Initiatives Group, Asia Society

In 2019 and for the foreseeable future, the Rohingya will continue to be the “most persecuted minority in the world” and will remain in refugee camps outside of Myanmar.