This essay, based on the articles included in Asia Maior XXX/2019 and additional sources, singles out the most significant developments in Asia during 2019. In 2019 the US’s Asia policy continued to be characterised by the abandonment of any caution in highlighting the administration’s confrontational stand vis-à-vis China and the continuation of the trade war not only on China, but on most US formal allies and non-treaty partners in the Indo-Pacific region. Beijing moved to counter Washington’s confrontational posture, but its efforts had limited or disappointing results as far as relations with the EU, Japan and India were concerned. In particular, Beijing’s rapprochement with Tokyo and New Delhi, although apparently momentous, was short on substance. The Sino-US confrontation took also place in a series of other geographical theatres, where, on the whole, its results were more favourable to China. This was the case in Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Vietnam. Conversely, in Mongolia, China, in spite of the overwhelming influence enjoyed because of the massive economic connection between the two countries, appeared to be on the losing side, as Ulaanbaatar signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Washington in July 2019. Interestingly, in its dealing with Mongolia, the Trump administration followed an economic approach at variance with the usual «America first» strategy, granting Mongolian cashmere duty-free access to the United States. In 2019, political freedom in Asia radically contracted. Examples of this involution were apparent both in the case of ‘not free’ countries, such as China, Kazakhstan and Myanmar, and ‘partly free’ countries, such as Malaysia and the Philippines, plus the ‘partly free’ territory of Hong Kong. However, by far the most worrying instance was represented by a ‘free’ country, namely India, where, after Narendra Modi’s victory at the 2019 general election, a systematic and massive assault on democracy took place. Nonetheless, some exceptions to this worrying trend were visible, represented by the cases of Taiwan, South Korea, Timor Leste and Mongolia. The democratic involution in Asia – which the anti-China discourse promoted by the Trump administration attributes to China’s malignant influence – had both endogenous causes (particularly visible in the case of India) and exogenous ones. Among the latter, together with China’s influence, another extremely dangerous one was Wahhabi Islam, assiduously promoted by Saudi Arabia, namely a country very close to the US.
Michelguglielmo Torri | University of Turin| firstname.lastname@example.org
Nicola Mocci | University of Sassari | email@example.com
Filippo Boni | The Open University | Filippo.Boni@Open.ac.uk