- Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.
Looking ahead to 2024, five CFR fellows highlight in charts, graphs, and maps some of the most important trends to track, including power dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region, digital threats to elections, and the changing mix of migrants arriving at the southern U.S. border.
U.S. Economic Influence in the Asia-Pacific
Few global dynamics will shape the next several decades of geopolitics more than the U.S.-China rivalry, as the two preeminent powers push their interests in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. According to the Lowy Institute’s Asia Power Index, which ranks the relative power of the more than two dozen countries in the region, the United States remains the most influential across a range of metrics, including military capacity and cultural sway. Yet in one crucial area—economic relationships, defined by Lowy as “the capacity to exercise influence and leverage through economic dependencies”—the United States is lagging far behind China in regional power. And things could continue to get worse for Washington in 2024.
The power gap in one particular measure of economic influence—economic diplomacy—is especially wide. The main factor explaining China’s advantage in this area is the U.S. absence from the two major trade arrangements in the Indo-Pacific, namely the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s largest plurilateral trade agreement [PDF], and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). (Former U.S. President Donald Trump famously pulled the United States out of CPTPP’s precursor arrangement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, on his first full day in office in 2017.)
China, meanwhile, is a member of RCEP and is likely to push CPTPP members in 2024 to start formal negotiations on its membership application. For now, Canada, Japan, and the newest CPTPP member, the United Kingdom, are holding the line against early entry by China, but Beijing is clearly trying to persuade other members and could be making progress. By contrast, the Joe Biden administration has made clear that it has no interest in pursuing formal trade agreements, while the future of its preferred initiative in the region, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), is uncertain after U.S. negotiators pulled back an “early harvest” agreement on trade measures that were scheduled to be signed in San Francisco in mid-November.
Matthew P. Goodman is the distinguished fellow for Global Economic Policy and director of the Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies.
Digital Threats to 2024 Elections
Nearly eighty countries, with a combined population of nearly four billion, will hold national elections next year, making it the largest global election cycle until 2048. Elections create heightened risks for influence operations as different actors, including foreign governments, attempt to sway votes and undermine trust in electoral processes. Many prominent countries with elections in 2024, including the United States, Mexico, and Ukraine, have been frequent targets of influence operations in recent years. Understanding where influence operations have already occurred, and how they have been conducted, will help map global electoral risk in the coming year.
Since 2017, the technology giant Meta has disclosed more than two hundred coordinated inauthentic behavior operations on its platforms, across more than one hundred countries. (Specifically, Meta tracks “coordinated efforts to manipulate public debate for a strategic goal, in which fake accounts are central to the operation.”) Meta has close to four billion monthly active users across its platforms, including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, as well as highly sophisticated analytical tools, so its reporting provides valuable insight into broader information dynamics and risks across the global digital landscape.
The 2024 election cycle comes at a perilous moment, in which threats to global electoral integrity may be supercharged by the confluence of several factors. Generative artificial intelligence tools that can speed up and scale misinformation and disinformation are on the rise, a growing range of global digital communications platforms are operating across increasingly varied contexts, a partisan campaign against information researchers is undermining efforts to safeguard the integrity of elections at home and abroad, and domestically, private and public sector attention on the U.S. election is pulling attention and resources from global electoral monitoring. Meanwhile, malign information operations continue to expand in scale and sophistication across the globe, particularly through campaigns based out of China, Iran, and Russia.
The breadth and complexity of these risks highlights the critical importance of nurturing and expanding feedback loops—among social media companies, information researchers, foreign affairs experts, and governments—to protect electoral integrity and democratic norms in the coming year, both at home and abroad.
Kat Duffy is the senior fellow for Digital and Cyberspace Policy. Kyle Fendorf is the research associate for the Digital and Cyberspace Program.
China’s Push Into Foreign Ports
China became the world’s largest navy [PDF] by ship numbers in 2020, but it is not yet a global naval power on par with the United States. One reason is that China currently has only one official overseas naval base, in Djibouti, while the United States has more than a dozen.
However, the real leverage of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government over the West is not necessarily in building newer and bigger naval bases abroad but in its expanding investments in global port infrastructure. Being the world’s largest trading country and second-largest economy, China conducts about 95 percent of its international trade by sea and has become a leading power in seaborne commerce. Beijing has made significant investments in more than 90 ports around the world, taking majority ownership in more than a dozen of them. Meanwhile, China itself is home to the world’s largest and most connected container ports, according to the Liner Shipping Connectivity Index.
Globally, more than 80 percent of goods are transported by shipping. China can substantially influence global trade and supply chains through its ownership and operation of ports. As illustrated by the congestion of the Suez Canal in March 2021, which reportedly cost tens of billions of dollars a day, disruptions along busy maritime routes or at major port facilities can significantly disturb global trade flows and inflict material costs on businesses and consumers.
Chinese ownership in overseas ports has encountered backlash in the West, often due to national security concerns raised by the government of the country where the port is located. Growing Western scrutiny has in the past led to Chinese entities being forced to sell their ownership, which occurred, for example, with the Port of Long Beach in 2019. In that case, U.S. regulators compelled a subsidiary of China’s Cosco Shipping to divest its container terminal business at the busy California port. However, governments that have paused or suspended port projects because of Chinese investment have sometimes allowed them to resume, such as the construction of the Khalifa Port in the United Arab Emirates by China Harbor Engineering Company. And, given the support of China’s top leaders, including President Xi Jinping, Chinese entities are likely to continue investing in overseas ports.
Zongyuan Zoe Liu is the Maurice R. Greenberg fellow for China studies.
Right on the Rise in Europe
Far-right parties are making gains across Europe, a trend that could threaten centrist parties and push populist and nationalist agendas into the mainstream, especially on migration. The surprising success of the far-right leader Geert Wilders in the Netherlands’ November elections has set off alarm bells, although it is unclear if he is able to form a governing coalition. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is leading Italy’s most far-right government since World War II. In Sweden, the right-wing party Sweden Democrats agreed to support a minority coalition of three center-right parties in 2022. In Finland, three conservative parties joined with the Finns Party, which is notoriously anti-immigration, to swing the country to the right after defeating former Prime Minister Sanna Marin earlier this year. Meanwhile, France’s National Rally and the German Alternative for Germany are rising in polls.
Taking a closer look, however, the picture is more complicated. Election results in Spain have left the far-right Vox with a weaker outcome than expected. In Poland, the populist Law and Justice Party (PiS) retained the highest number of seats in parliament after its October election, but it will not be part of a new centrist coalition government led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Despite initial concerns, Meloni has governed Italy in a more moderate fashion than expected. After Slovakia’s recent elections, it is a nationalist left-wing—and not a far-right wing—populist leader, Prime Minister Robert Fico, who is breaking the consensus on support for Ukraine and siding with Hungary’s far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
With the European Parliamentary election approaching in June 2024, concerns across Europe over immigration and inflation could translate into greater support for far-right and populist parties than in the last elections in 2019. Among its powers, the European Parliament must sign off on most European Union (EU) laws and approve the President of the European Commission. Elections in Austria and Portugal next year are expected to see a rise of Euroskeptic and far-right parties. However, Poland and Spain demonstrate that the need for coalition-building can limit or sideline the influence of far-right factions. In the European Parliament, current coalition dynamics make it unlikely that far-right or populist votes will exert a deciding influence on important decisions, such as EU enlargement, over the next several years.
Liana Fix is a fellow for Europe.
The New Mix of Migrants to the U.S. Border
The number of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border reached an all-time high of 2.5 million in fiscal year 2023. For years, migrants coming to the United States irregularly were primarily from Mexico and northern Central America. But since 2021, migrants from across Africa, Asia, and the Western Hemisphere have counted among the largest groups reaching the border. The surge of migrants is challenging already overwhelmed border officials and U.S. immigration courts, while the ever-expanding list of countries involved has called into question the notion of tackling the “root causes” of migration.
The trend lines have shifted for a variety of reasons. Irregular migration from Mexico decreased in the 2010s because of factors including the country’s improving economic conditions, smaller family sizes, and aging population. It began increasing again in 2020, though not to previous levels. Meanwhile, migration from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—the so-called Northern Triangle—began to level off after 2021.
In recent years, a variety of crises in South America and the Caribbean have pushed a new mixture of migrants to the United States. Many of them, particularly those fleeing Venezuela’s ongoing economic collapse and Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, first settled in other South American countries. However, the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating effects on South America’s economies and the rising costs of living propelled hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to head north. Meanwhile, economic dysfunction and authoritarian crackdowns in Cuba drove a new wave of migrants to the United States, while organized crime-fueled violence pushed more migration from Ecuador and Haiti.
The United States has influenced Mexico to tighten its own visa requirements for travelers from these countries, forcing many migrants to take the longer and more dangerous route through Panama’s Darién Gap. Despite it being a grueling journey, the numbers of migrants taking that route have remained high.
Heightened migration flows through the Americas are likely here to stay. While they represent a significant challenge for regional governments, they also present an opportunity for aging countries like the United States, which could expand legal pathways for migrants to integrate into labor markets and society.
Will Freeman is a fellow for Latin America Studies.
Jonathan Masters edited this article. Will Merrow created the graphics.