Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2020.01.23

What won't happen in the world in 2020

the japan times on January 14, 2020
Last week I was in Southeast Asia, where I was invited to speak at a panel in Singapore and to give speeches at universities in Indonesia. Despite their differences in size, these two countries have one thing in common. They are two of the four island-nations surrounding the South China Sea.

A visit to the National Museum in Singapore helped me reconfirm a well-known fact: It was a member of the British East India Company who landed on a small island at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula in 1819. The isle at that time was called Singapura, which means a "city of lions" in Sanskrit.

In downtown Jakarta I stopped by the former residence of a young Japanese admiral in the Imperial Navy, Tadashi Maeda. The declaration of independence of Indonesia was drafted in this house. Indonesian soldiers who Japan had trained between 1943 and 1945 went on to form the embryo of the national armed forces.The British considered Singapore to be a stopover on their route from India to China. The Japanese came to Jakarta to secure sea lines of communication to ship Indonesian oil back to Japan. Those islands in Southeast Asia have been central to the concept of the Indo-Pacific at least since the 19th century,

It was in this setting that I contemplated what will not happen in the world in 2020 from a geopolitical perspective, just as I did a year ago for 2019. The following is my take.

1. The competition between land and sea powers will not end.

Last year I wrote that Eurasia's two revisionist land powers, Russia and China, would compete with a coalition of sea powers consisting of the United States and its Asian allies. Seen from Southeast Asia, the competition as well as the oneness of "Middle East Asia" will most likely continue in the foreseeable future.

2. North Korea will not denuclearize.

There is no prospect for U.S.-North Korea talks after the "deadline" unilaterally established by Pyongyang passed. Since the North Korea issue will not be a priority in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, no substantive "denuclearization" will happen even if there is a fourth U.S.-North Korea summit meeting.

3. China will not give in to the U.S.

Although the first phase of the U.S.-China trade agreement was signed, Beijing is unlikely to make necessary additional concessions to Washington before Election Day. The hegemonic rivalry between the United States and China will continue, even if President Donald Trump is not re-elected in November.

4. Southeast Asia will not unite.

Being in Southeast Asia, I was reminded of the difference in temperature among the ASEAN member states and, therefore, why they will not be united against China in a foreseeable future. Their concerns about Beijing, however, seem to be increasing, probably much more rapidly than I had anticipated.

5. India will not become a U.S. ally.

About one tenth of Singapore's population is of Indian descent and India is reportedly enhancing its activities in Southeast Asia. Although there are growing concerns in the region about China's "Belt and Road" initiative, India doesn't seem to be trying to counterbalance China in the South China Sea.

6. The Mideast will not become stable.

Washington, or more precisely, Trump, provoked Tehran on Jan. 2 by killing the commander of Iran's Quds Force and the U.S. may have to stay in the Middle East at least for the time being. The U.S.-Iran geopolitical game has entered a new dimension and the Middle East will continue to be unstable.

7. The EU will not be divided.

Despite the Brexit scheduled at the end of January, the European Union will continue to function as a regional international entity. The consensus among the political elites is still strong in keeping the European continent united. Therefore, the EU will not break up even if the United Kingdom leaves the union.

So long as France and Germany work together, the EU will survive, although nationalism and populism may further cause domestic politics to deteriorate in some member states. In this regard, the domestic politics in Germany will show which direction Europe is headed.

8. Russia will not stop espionage.

Moscow's interventions in Western domestic politics is the exclusive prerogative of the president of the Russian Federation. No other leader in the world knows intelligence activities better than Vladimir Putin. Especially in this U.S. election year, the vulnerability of the U.S. and its allies will continue.

9. Trump will not be convicted.

My only prediction for 2019 that did not come true was the impeachment of Trump. At the end of last year, House Democrats voted to pass two articles of impeachment, but it is unlikely that Trump will be convicted in the upcoming impeachment trial at the Republican-majority Senate. Moreover, there remains a possibility that Trump will be re-elected.

10. Japan will not be as stable as before.

Finally, some words about Japan. The international situation mentioned above may provide Tokyo with more challenges than opportunities this year. The fundamental question for Japan is whether Tokyo can endure and catch up with the rapid pace of this changing world.

If the popular feeling of domestic political entrapment persists and leads to a change in government, which is rumored to take place as early as just after the Olympic/Paralympic Games, Japan may face both domestic and external political difficulties.

I only hope that such difficulties will not adversely affect Japan's international status and the influence that Tokyo has cultivated over the past seven years.