A file photo shows China's Liaoning aircraft carrier with an accompanying fleet conducting a drill in the South China Sea. Photo: Reuters / Stringer / File Photo

For Asia watchers, 2018 was a volatile year as the neophyte Donald Trump administration confronted a muscular Beijing over trade, territory in the South China Sea, and Taiwan while seeking a solution over nuclear proliferation in North Korea. In 2019, the region could experience even more unpredictability, as a tumultuous and turbulent White House struggles to restrain a more belligerent Beijing.

One Asia watcher, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, hosted its seventh annual discussion on Asia in Washington on January 23 and invited some 140 guests and three panels of CSIS senior scholars to help forecast political, security and economic developments across Asia this year. 

CSIS posed several multiple-choice questions to the audience, who were able to vote via a handheld device that quickly displayed their votes on overhead screens.  

Among the questions asked was, “In 2019, a major security incident is more likely to occur in Korea, South China Sea, East China Sea, Taiwan or on the Sino-India border?” CSIS had posed the same question in 2018, and the response this year showed profound changes in concern – the top worry for 2019 was over the South China Sea (58%), up from 31% in 2018. 

Concerns over the South China Sea eclipsed those over Korea (the top concern in 2018), which fell to third place (16%) – despite South Korea being voted the most problematic ally in the region.

Concern over Taiwan rose from a mere 3% in 2018 to 22% (second place) in light of heated rhetoric in early January between Taipei and Beijing – though Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at CSIS, was quick to play down fears by pointing out that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent speech on Taiwan was “a requirement,” while adding that Xi had set no date for his “one country, two systems” approach to unification.  

Last, worries in 2018 over the East China Sea (10%) and the Sino-India border (14%) both fell to 2% among the audience.

Conversely, the audience was asked what would be the biggest boon to security in the Indo-Pacific during 2019. Forty-four percent of the audience believed closer US-Japan defense ties would help stability, while 22% voted for greater integration and interoperability among the Quad (US, Japan, India and Australia) members as a factor. Only 21% viewed diplomatic progress between China and Southeast Asian claimants to the South China Sea as leading to stability, which is consistent with the audience concern over the likelihood of a major security incident in those waters.

Economically, the biggest concern the audience had for China’s economy was sluggish economic growth (44%) rather than friction over implementing US requests for structural changes (14%) or debt sustainability concerns (13%). China’s growth projections, which only 7% of the audience figured would exceed expectations, were likely lowered by the expectation of nearly half the audience that the US trade war with China would not be resolved in 2019.

Last, 40% of the audience thought China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) would retrench and rebrand to counter concerns over “debt-trap diplomacy,” while another 40% believed China would maintain its steady expansion, especially in Southeast Asia, Africa and South America.

For Asia watchers in the audience like myself, the use of a democratic voting process provided a refreshing alternative to the usual fare of simply listening to a panel of experts, and yielded some surprising results. While there may have been some “bandwagon effect” bias in the voting (as certain answers gained real-time prominence before the voting was finished), and recent news events may have swayed some of the votes, overall the exercise by CSIS presented a unique opportunity for other Asia watchers to help weed out any potential “groupthink” at CSIS, but also for CSIS to challenge some of the public’s misinformed views.  

——

Asia Times has relaunched on www.asiatimes.com. Download our brand new native App for a sweeping selection of geopolitical and business news from across Asia.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now. 

Gary Sands

Gary Sands is a senior analyst at Wikistrat, a crowdsourced consultancy, and a director at Highway West Capital Advisors, a venture capital, project finance and political risk advisory. He has contributed a number of op-eds for Forbes, US News and World Report, Newsweek, The Diplomat, The National Interest, EurasiaNet, and the South China Morning Post. He spent six years in Shanghai, four years in Ho Chi Minh City, and is now based in Taipei. Twitter@ForeignDevil666

Join the Conversation

45 Comments

  1. Generally I don’t read post on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to try and do it! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thanks, very nice article.

  2. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to mention that I have really loved browsing your weblog posts.
    In any case I will be subscribing in your rss feed and I hope you write once more
    very soon!

  3. Hi, this weekend is good designed for me, because this moment i am reading this wonderful informative
    post here at my house.

  4. You are so interesting! I don’t think I’ve read through a single thing like that before.
    So great to find someone with a few genuine thoughts on this subject
    matter. Seriously.. thank you for starting this up.
    This web site is something that’s needed on the internet,
    someone with a little originality!

  5. Have you ever thought about adding a little bit more than just your articles?
    I mean, what you say is important and all. But think about if you added some great pictures or videos to give your posts more, “pop”!

    Your content is excellent but with images and video clips, this blog
    could certainly be one of the greatest in its field. Awesome blog!

  6. Hi there, You’ve done a great job. I’ll definitely digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I am sure they will be benefited from this site.

  7. Oh my goodness! an incredible post dude. Thank you Nonetheless I’m experiencing issue with ur rss . Do not know why Struggling to subscribe to it. Possibly there is anyone getting identical rss difficulty? Anybody who knows kindly respond. Thnkx

  8. The other day, while I was at work, my cousin stole my apple ipad and tested to see if it can survive a 30 foot drop, just so
    she can be a youtube sensation. My apple ipad is now broken and she has 83
    views. I know this is completely off topic but I had to share it
    with someone!

  9. Hiya, I’m really glad I’ve found this info. Nowadays bloggers publish just about gossips and internet and this is really irritating. A good blog with interesting content, this is what I need. Thank you for keeping this site, I will be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Can’t find it.

  10. I’ve been browsing on-line more than 3 hours these
    days, but I never discovered any interesting article like yours.
    It’s pretty value enough for me. In my view, if all site owners and
    bloggers made good content material as you did,
    the net will be much more useful than ever before.

  11. I like the helpful info you provide in your articles.
    I will bookmark your blog and check again here regularly.
    I am quite sure I will learn many new stuff right here!
    Good luck for the next!

  12. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme.
    Did you make this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you?
    Plz answer back as I’m looking to design my own blog and would like to find out where u got this from.
    many thanks

  13. Howdy! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a team of volunteers and starting a new project in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us valuable information to work on. You have done a outstanding job!

  14. I do believe all the ideas you’ve presented on your post.
    They are very convincing and will certainly work.
    Still, the posts are very quick for novices. Could you please prolong them a little from next time?
    Thank you for the post.

  15. It’s perfect time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I desire to suggest you few interesting things or advice. Maybe you can write next articles referring to this article. I desire to read even more things about it!

  16. Howdy I am so delighted I found your site, I really found you by accident,
    while I was browsing on Digg for something else, Anyhow I am here now and would just like to say thanks
    for a remarkable post and a all round enjoyable blog (I also love the theme/design),
    I don’t have time to look over it all at the
    moment but I have book-marked it and also included your RSS
    feeds, so when I have time I will be back to
    read a great deal more, Please do keep up the great
    work.

  17. Hello are using WordPress for your blog platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and create my own. Do you need any html coding knowledge to make your own blog? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *