Outlook 2017: East Asia

This is the first of a five-part series looking at the key events and issues facing the world in 2017. Today, The Straits Times looks at East Asia and the many challenges the region faces in the coming months.


China's uneasy path ahead

It will be a difficult and uncertain 2017 for China and President Xi Jinping, and it is not just because of the unpredictability of United States President-elect Donald Trump.


A building in Shanghai covered in posters of President Xi Jinping. To deal effectively with external uncertainties, China and Mr Xi will need to first address its internal troubles, says Prof Wang Gungwu of the East Asian Institute. PHOTO: REUTERS

Granted, the uneasy Taiwan Strait is made more volatile by Mr Trump's breaking with a decades-old tradition in speaking directly with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and then questioning the "one China" policy that has been the basis for China-US relations since the two sides normalised ties in 1979.

China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province to be reunited with the motherland, while Ms Tsai is independence-leaning.

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Japanese PM could be tripped up by Trump, economy


Mr Abe with Mr Trump in New York last month. Securing the President-elect's commitment to East Asia will be a key priority for Mr Abe. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Japan enters the new year amid uncertainties over the course of its alliance with the US.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will see it as his key priority to secure United States President-elect Donald Trump's commitment to East Asia.

That means maintaining the alliance with Japan and having a swift and determined joint response to any challenges, said research fellow Ippeita Nishida of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.

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S. Korea in need of leader who can heal nation


A protester chanting during a general strike in Seoul last month calling for President Park to step down. PHOTO: REUTERS

South Korea, mired in a political scandal that triggered massive protests and President Park Geun Hye's impeachment by Parliament, is poised to elect a new head of state earlier than planned next year.

Several polling options have already been thrown up in media reports - March, May or August instead of the originally scheduled December - if the Constitutional Court now reviewing the case decides to uphold impeachment.

A decision must be made before June 6, and if the court supports impeachment as widely expected, the next presidential election will be held within 60 days.

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Tough challenges await new HK Chief Executive


A road block set up by demonstrators near the China liaison office during a protest last month against Beijing's intervention in local politics.PHOTO: REUTERS

It will mark its 20th anniversary as a Special Administrative Region of China next year.

The new year will also see a new Chief Executive being picked to lead the semi-autonomous city.

The leadership of Mr Leung Chun Ying has been controversial, and his administration has been plagued by pro-democracy protests, including the 79-day Umbrella Revolution in 2014 and the Mongkok riot this year. The most recent came last month, when 4,000 demonstrators clashed with police outside the China liaison office in protest over Beijing's handing down of its ruling on an oath-taking row involving pro-democracy and pro-independence legislators.

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Taiwan leader faces major tests on foreign, home fronts


Ms Tsai must deal with rising tensions with China, while facing growing discontent among politicians and voters at home, among other things. PHOTO: REUTERS

Nearly a year after her euphoric election victory, President Tsai Ing-wen is facing sobering times ahead.

Since she took office in May, she has faced one crisis after another.

One major challenge is cross-strait relations, which turned chilly after Ms Tsai, 59, did not acknowledge the 1992 Consensus in her inauguration speech. It is a tacit agreement that there is only one China, with each side having its own interpretation of what that means.

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