Despite his nation winning a geopolitical victory against China at The Hague over rights in the South China Sea, expect President Rodrigo Duterte to continue a rush to embrace Beijing and further distance the country from the US. Some analysts predict a slight economic downturn in 2017, but the Philippines still has a stronger growth rate than China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. This rosy picture means Duterte’s popularity will probably continue to rise internally even as international outcries about his extrajudicial killings, escalating in the name of a national drug war, mount.
The record defence budget that was approved by the Japanese cabinet will set the agenda for the year ahead as Tokyo upgrades and expands its capabilities.
The Y5.13 trillion (US$43.6 billion) budget is an increase of 1.4 per cent on the previous year’s military spending and accounts for around 1 per cent of GDP.
Tokyo has stated that its main security concerns are an increasingly aggressive China and the nuclear-armed and deeply unpredictable regime in North Korea.
The Ministry of Defence’s budget request placed a heavy emphasis on increasing maritime security, an indication of the concern felt over Beijing’s claims to sovereignty over territory that it refers to as the Diaoyu Islands (above) but which Japan knows as the Senkakus.
As well as investing in long-range drone aircraft, the ministry intends to buy ship-based Standard Missile-3 Block IIA surface-to-air missiles, to upgrade its Atago class destroyers, order more Souryo class submarines, upgrade its Oyashio class submarines, and build a new minesweeper and an ocean surveillance ship.
Other priorities include upgrading its existing Patriot-3 surface-to-air missile batteries, purchasing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft and F-35 Lightning II fighters.
The year ahead will deliver the conclusion to President Park Geun-hye’s saga when the Constitutional Court decides whether to remove her from office for allegedly taking bribes and other derelictions of duty. Presidential elections will be held either way. The US antiballistic missile system known as THAAD will probably be deployed in Seongju, souring relations with Beijing and Moscow, and Pyongyang will decide what to make of US President-elect Donald Trump.
The nation will host the World Economic Forum on East Asia in May.
The Commune Elections, which will serve as a major pointer for general elections in 2018, will be held in June.
The genocide trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea (above) and Khieu Sampan is expected to conclude later this year.
Simultaneous regional elections will take place in seven Indonesian provinces and among 18 cities and 76 districts spread across a total of 28 of the country’s 34 provinces in February. Most attention focuses on the Jakarta gubernatorial election, with incumbent Governor Basuki Purnama (above) still holding a narrow lead in the polls despite being on trial for blasphemy.
Expect a relative economic contraction, not growth. The Asian-based financial group Nomura predicts growth at 7.1 per cent, but Ambit Capital forecasts a lower 3.5 per cent.
The Union Budget will be presented on February 1, ahead of its normal February 28 date.
Uttar Pradesh will elect 403 lawmakers by March; Goa, Manipur, Punjab and Uttarakhand will have simultaneous polls around the same time. Reverses, especially in Uttar Pradesh, could cripple Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime.
Asia’s bellwether economy ushers in 2017 beaten down by tepid global growth, a shipping slump and accelerated US interest rate hikes. On the world stage, Singapore’s diplomats have their work cut out managing frosty ties with Beijing and an unpredictable new US president. At home, politics watchers will be on the lookout for more clues on who will succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. An August election for the country’s ceremonial president will be reserved for ethnic Malays, following a constitutional amendment last year to boost the racial representation of the office.
The nation celebrates its 60th year of Independence from Britain on August 31 and observers believe scandal-tainted Prime Minister Najib Razak could use euphoria from the event to call for national elections in the later part of the year. Though he has denied wrongdoing, Najib’s name has cropped up in worldwide graft investigations into state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad. At an annual gathering of his political party Umno last month, he has said that the elections “will be soon”.
Expect stresses to compound on Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, as she tries to appease both those who still hold considerable sway in the military-backed internal politics of her country and growing international pressure to ease the humanitarian crisis of the nation’s Rohingya population, still held captive by the military in Rakhine State and denied citizenship. Going into 2017, Suu Kyi says the complex issue, involving continuous killings on both sides, needs “time , space and understanding”. ■