Issues that could shape 2016

Looking forward: The world stage

People's Liberation Army recruits shout slogans as they march during a training session in cold winter temperatures at a military base in China's Heilongjiang province. President Xi is pushing on with tough military reforms and an anti-corruption dri
People's Liberation Army recruits shout slogans as they march during a training session at a military base in China's Heilongjiang province.PHOTO: REUTERS

Slower growth, but Beijing's influence in Asia set to grow

China's economic clout in the region looks set to increase this year, despite its growth slowing further, analysts say.

This could give President Xi Jinping a lift as he pushes on with tough military reforms and an anti-corruption drive, ahead of a major leadership transition next year.

The slowing gross domestic product (GDP) growth could be the trickiest economic issue for Beijing this year, noted Asian political economy expert Ramon Pacheco Pardo from King's College London. "While the slowdown was expected by the government, its speed and extent were not," he told The Sunday Times.

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Chances high of first female president in Taiwan

Come Jan 16, Taiwan will most likely welcome its first female president and its second president from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

It could also see, for the first time, the DPP controlling both the island's executive and legislative branches - meaning Taiwan will turn an indisputable shade of green.

The triple whammy of Dr Tsai Ing-wen's likely victory makes this presidential election a milestone in Taiwan's history.

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Hong Kong legislative polls to reveal city's political sentiments

Slightly over three years ago, Hong Kongers went to the polls to elect their legislators.

 

The conclusion from the results - radicals gained more support while moderates lost ground - was a grim one: The city would become increasingly ungovernable.

This worry has been more than borne out since.

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Much is at stake for embattled Najib in Malaysia

This year may be the year of reckoning for Malaysia's longstanding bid to achieve developed nation status by 2020.

As it turned out, last year was an annus horribilis for Prime Minister Najib Razak but he appears to be entering the new year much more secure than he could ever have imagined just a few months ago.

Forced to use controversial methods to fight off tremendous pressure to resign over reports that some US$700 million (S$988 million) linked to state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) ended up in his private accounts, Datuk Seri Najib looked steady in the boat by last month following the Umno general assembly.

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Indonesia's Jokowi grapples with economic, Cabinet and terrorism issues

South Jakarta resident Armand Hartono was unemployed for most of last year after he was retrenched from his job at a car dealership.

The 43-year-old would have remained among Indonesia's 7.56 million unemployed had he not found work as a driver in October.

Others have not been as lucky in Indonesia, where growth last year was hit by a global economic downturn, a depreciating rupiah and plummeting commodity prices.

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Pivotal election ahead to pick Aquino's successor

Come May, more than 50 million Filipinos will make a choice that will have an impact on their lives for the next six years.

The man who has given them a period of prosperity not seen in decades - Mr Benigno Aquino - will step down after serving as president for six years. The Constitution limits his rule to a single term.

All five candidates seeking to replace him are promising the same things: to combat corruption, create jobs, raise salaries, bring down prices, open more doors to investors, cut taxes, fix Manila's horrendous traffic problem, and blanket the entire archipelago with free Wi-Fi. But it may not be the promises that will prove pivotal, but the election itself.

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Challenges remain for India's government fraught with tensions

India's politics will remain fraught with tension between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its rivals even as its economic growth is forecast to exceed 7 per cent.

The opposition Congress party has accused the BJP of waging a "political vendetta" against its party president Sonia Gandhi and her son and party vice-president Rahul. Both are embroiled in a corruption case brought by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy. It is related to the sale of assets of a defunct newspaper.

Though the case is now before the courts, Congress has disrupted parliamentary sessions over it.

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Uncertainty as political transitions loom in Indochina

Mainland South-east Asia is set for a year of uncertainty and potential friction as sensitive political transitions loom, especially in Thailand and Myanmar, and external economic factors, like the slump in commodity prices and China's slowdown, take the steam out of regional economies.

 Vietnam is set for a party congress early this year, which will reshuffle the Politburo and install new leadership. While far from a transformational change, the leadership will have to manage fundamental issues, including reforms mandated by and associated with Hanoi's accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement - some of which, like labour unions, go against the very grain of the one-party communist state.

But the mood is optimistic on the back of 6.7 per cent growth in gross domestic product last year - an eight-year high powered by exports and foreign investments.

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Eye on the economy in Thailand amid tepid growth

On Dec 19, Thailand and China held a groundbreaking ceremony for a joint railway project, despite the fact that negotiations over financing had not been finalised.

The peculiar arrangement is perhaps a reflection of Bangkok's economic imperative; as the military government continues unchallenged in its second year, it urgently needs to show some fruit of political stability.

Weighed down by the economic slowdown in China - its largest trade partner - Thailand did not see as big a rebound last year as it had hoped from the political crisis- plagued 2014. The central bank forecast a full-year growth of 2.8 per cent for 2015.

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High-stakes US presidential election promises to dominate attention

On the second Tuesday of November this year, Americans will head to the polls to choose their first new president since 2008.

In the 11 months between now and then, that election will hog all the attention and colour every issue across the country.

President Barack Obama promised an active final year in office at his end-of-year press conference before Christmas. But even though he alluded to a lot of "interesting stuff" to come, it is clear that much of what he can do will be circumscribed by the election.

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No end in sight to Europe's economic and migration woes

Europeans can be forgiven if they look forward to 2016 with a sense of foreboding, rather than anticipation. For many of the problems which beset the continent during 2015 are likely to remain unresolved in the new year.

Chief among these is the state of the European economy. The European Union has managed to avoid a meltdown over Greece, which began last year with a newly elected government determined to tear up all austerity measures imposed by its European partners but ended the year saddled with an even bigger austerity programme.

But the economic costs of keeping Greece in the euro zone are huge. Greece got a further credit line of €86 billion (S$132 billion) in bailout funding for the next three years, on top of an estimated €240 billion already offered since the beginning of the decade. The political costs are considerable too: Greek fury with Germany which dictated the economic agenda in Europe is undiminished. Other European states too resent German influence.

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A hot year politically and on the economic front too for Australia

Australia enters 2016 in anticipation of a general election likely to be held in the second half of the year.

It is set to be a fascinating election, after the third successive polls in which an incumbent leader came to office after ousting  a sitting prime minister.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been in office only since September, after ousting Mr Tony Abbott, and will be hoping to win a public mandate to govern.

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