CFR looks back on the year in global developments, and ahead to the decade to come.

  • Elections and Voting
    Ten Elections to Watch in 2020
    Numerous countries will hold elections in 2020. Here are ten to watch. 
  • U.S. Foreign Policy
    The World Next Year: Looking Ahead to 2020
    Hosts James M. Lindsay and Robert McMahon are joined by Paul B. Stares to forecast the coming year’s international challenges and developments.
  • United States
    The Year in CFR Events
    Take a look back at 2019’s most pressing current events and the experts and renowned guests who came to CFR, including Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to discuss these issues
  • Demonstrations and Protests
    Photos: The Year in Protests
  • Southeast Asia
    Southeast Asia Stories to Watch in 2020: Part 1
    1. Continuing Political Regression In recent weeks, Southeast Asia’s authoritarian drift has continued, with several notable events. The Thai government moved to ban the opposition Future Forward Party, sparking major protests in Bangkok. The Cambodian government announced that opposition leader Kem Sokha will go on trial for treason in early 2020. And, of course, former Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has appeared in The Hague to defend Myanmar against genocide charges. She returned home to a warm reception, suggesting that her defense enjoys wide popularity across Myanmar. Other than in Malaysia, there are few signs of hope for political progress in the region in 2020. 2. Elections: Part 1 As I noted in a previous blog post, there are two consequential elections in Southeast Asia in 2020. In Singapore, the result is essentially foretold, but the extent of the almost assured People’s Action Party (PAP) victory will be interesting to watch—as will how Singapore’s anti-fake news law comes into play. In Myanmar, the result is less certain, and there are real fears that in the run-up to national elections, the politicized environment could spark new rounds of violence. 3. Elections: Part 2 Although the U.S. presidential election does not take place in Southeast Asia, the results of the November 2020 contest will have a significant impact on the region. The Trump administration has tried to beef up links with important partners like Thailand and Vietnam, has developed a new strategy for the region, and has taken a tough stance on human rights challenges in some countries like Cambodia. But it also often has ignored the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as an organization, sending a relatively low level delegation to recent ASEAN meetings. The White House also has had little to say about issues of major importance to the region like climate change. A Democratic president’s Southeast Asia policy cannot be foretold with certainty, but a Democratic president likely would take a greater interest in climate change and try to reinvigorate links with ASEAN as an organization. However, given growing skepticism of many trade deals in segments of the Democratic Party as well, a Democratic president still would be unlikely to make the United States a major player in Asia’s regional trade integration. And while a Democratic president might take a slightly more hands-off approach to bilateral trade disputes with Southeast Asian nations, a United States that is more hawkish on trade overall is probably here to stay. 4. U.S.-China Relations Southeast Asian countries continue to struggle with how to adapt to a regional environment in which the United States and China have become increasingly confrontational, on issues ranging from trade to cybersecurity. Some Southeast Asian countries seem to have benefited from U.S.-China trade tensions—notably, Vietnam, but also possibly Malaysia and the Philippines. Still, many of the most trade-dependent Southeast Asian economies, like Singapore, are terrified of a return to U.S.-China trade tensions, and also are furious at the overall breakdown of global trade institutions, and the United States’ increasing hawkishness on trade. And, Southeast Asian countries increasingly accept that China is the dominant regional economic actor, and will become the dominant strategic actor, too. But China’s bullying in Southeast Asia has alienated segments of the population even in countries with relatively warm views of Beijing, like Malaysia and Thailand—and it has badly strained relations with Singapore and Vietnam. Countries are adapting, and will continue to adapt in 2020. Vietnam, for instance, continues to improve its military capabilities—and likely will continue to move slowly toward a closer partnership with the United States.
  • Global
    2019 Hot Spots: The Year in Eleven Maps
    CFR showcases eleven maps that help explain the events that grabbed the world’s attention in the past year.
  • United States
    Ten Anniversaries to Note in 2020
    As 2019 comes to a close, here are ten notable historical anniversaries to mark in 2020.
  • Trade
    Visualizing 2020: Trends to Watch
    CFR experts spotlight some of the most important trends they will be tracking in the year ahead.  
  • Southeast Asia
    Looking Ahead to Next Year: Southeast Asia’s Big 2020 Elections
    Coming off a year with critical elections in Thailand and Indonesia, in 2020 Southeast Asians will go to the polls in several important countries. Most notably, both Singapore and Myanmar will hold general elections. Taiwan will hold a general election as well, in January, but I will examine Taiwan’s election prospects in a forthcoming CFR In Brief. Singapore and Myanmar sit at opposite ends of the economic spectrum in Southeast Asia; the city-state is the richest country in the region, and Myanmar is one of the poorest. Their elections, too, will have relatively little in common. In Singapore, the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has dominated the country since independence, will surely be returned to power, although probably with a new prime minister after the vote, current Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat. Singapore politics has become increasingly contested in the past decade, with opposition parties making modest gains. This year the opposition will include not only the longstanding Workers Party but a new party, the Progress Singapore Party, led by a former PAP member of parliament named Tan Cheng Bock. As a former PAP member of parliament, and a former candidate for the mostly ceremonial presidency, he has a more centrist appeal than the Workers Party, and could potentially draw voters who would never pull the lever for the Workers Party. Still, the opposition will probably be fortunate to keep the tiny fraction of seats it currently holds in parliament, and it is not impossible that the opposition gets shut out entirely. In Myanmar, meanwhile, the election is much more uncertain. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has not delivered on its economic promises, and instead has fallen back onto appeals to nationalism, including standing up against global criticism of Myanmar’s approach to the Rohingya. This approach has had some effect, domestically, in boosting Suu Kyi’s popularity, and her National League for Democracy (NLD) remains in solid shape for the 2020 elections. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the successor to the military’s mass organization during the junta period, still has not become an effective grassroots political party, and its massive loss in the 2015 general election proved difficult to rebound from. It is possible that the NLD’s failures, rising anger against Suu Kyi in some ethnic minority areas, and more effective campaigning by the USDP could work against Suu Kyi’s party in the 2020 contest. However, many ethnic minorities will not want to back what is still viewed as the military’s party, and some voters will instead turn to newly formed parties, like the one set up by former house speaker Shwe Mann. The result could be a parliament with many smaller parties, causing further instability. And the army chief Min Aung Hlaing, who seems to be acting like he wants to become president (while also standing accused of overseeing crimes against humanity) if the USDP and its allies can scratch together enough seats to place him in the presidency, could add another wild card to the equation. One common aspect, however, will be concern about disinformation. In Myanmar, that disinformation largely comes from within. The country has become a hotbed of hate speech and conspiracy-mongering online, often against ethnic and religious minorities—Rohingya, Christian ethnic minorities like the Kachin, and others. Hate speech and conspiracy theories, spread on Facebook and through other online means, helped spark several rounds of killings of Rohingya, including the 2017 ethnic cleansing. In the run-up to the 2020 election, the prospect of more massive disinformation and hate speech looms large. While Facebook has tried to crack down on the sharing of hate speech in Myanmar, the social media giant could take more steps to fight disinformation in one of the most toxic online environments in the world. The government in Naypyidaw, meanwhile, has little incentive to stop disinformation, and the prospect of a combustible election period is high. This year, disinformation might not necessarily be focused on ethnic and religious minorities—it could instead be used against political rivals—but the results could lead to violence, and could spill over and spark attacks on minorities. As James Gomez of the Asia Center in Bangkok has shown, recent election seasons in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have included politicians, faith-based groups and other actors using disinformation to mobilize political supporters. He believes that Myanmar could easily fall into the same pattern. In Singapore, meanwhile, the threat of disinformation comes as much from outside the city-state as from within. Singapore faces a growing threat of Chinese influence in its elections and within Singapore society in general. Prominent opinion leaders such as former Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan have warned that the city-state must get much tougher in responding to Chinese influence, including expanding efforts to educate the public about Chinese influence operations. Partly due to growing concerns about Chinese disinformation regionally—China has spread disinformation widely in Taiwan—the Singapore government this year passed an anti-fake news law, officially known as the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act. However, the law is not only about China. In an environment as controlled as Singapore, the anti-fake news law, which gives the government broad powers to decide what online information is true or not, raises concerns that it will be used not only against legitimate disinformation but also to silence opposition voices. Such silencing could be particularly relevant in the run-up to the general election. Already, Facebook has complained to the Singapore government that the fake news law must not infringe upon free speech, even as Facebook went along with the law and told users in Singapore that a posting by a Singaporean dissident contained false information.