The year 2024 could be a turbulent one for Asia, as several geopolitical flashpoints could escalate into conflicts or crises, according to analysts and observers.
One of the most contentious issues is the future of Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary. Taiwan, however, has its own democratically elected government and a de facto independent status, and enjoys strong support from the United States and its allies.
The tensions over Taiwan have increased in recent years, as China has stepped up its military and diplomatic pressure on the island, while the US has boosted its arms sales and official contacts with Taipei. The situation could worsen in 2024, as Taiwan is scheduled to hold its presidential election in January, and the US is set to hold its midterm congressional elections in November.
Analysts say that both events could trigger provocations or miscalculations from either side, as the incumbent leaders may seek to appeal to their domestic constituencies or deter their adversaries. For instance, China may conduct more military exercises or incursions near Taiwan, or even launch a limited attack on some of its offshore islands. The US may respond by sending more warships or aircraft to the Taiwan Strait, or even invoking the Taiwan Relations Act, which requires it to help Taiwan defend itself.
Another potential hotspot is the South China Sea, where China and several Southeast Asian countries have overlapping territorial and maritime claims. China has asserted its sovereignty over most of the sea, and has built artificial islands and military facilities on some of the disputed features. The US and its allies have challenged China’s claims and actions, and have conducted freedom of navigation operations and joint exercises in the area.
The South China Sea dispute could flare up in 2024, as China may seek to enforce its claims more aggressively, or declare an air defense identification zone over the sea. The US and its allies may increase their naval and aerial presence, or conduct more joint patrols or drills. The risk of accidental or intentional clashes could rise, especially if the parties do not adhere to the existing rules and mechanisms for crisis management and conflict prevention.
A third source of uncertainty is the outcome of the US presidential election in 2024, which could have significant implications for the US-China relations and the regional order. The current president, Joe Biden, has adopted a tough stance on China, but has also expressed his willingness to cooperate on some issues, such as climate change and public health. His potential challengers, however, may have different views or approaches on how to deal with China and its growing influence.
Analysts say that the US presidential election could affect the dynamics and stability of the region, as the candidates may adopt different policies or strategies on trade, security, human rights, and other matters. The election could also influence the perceptions and expectations of the regional actors, who may adjust their alignments or calculations based on the US’ role and commitment in the region.
These are some of the scenarios that could unfold in 2024, which could make it a more geopolitically perilous year for Asia. However, analysts also point out that there are some factors that could mitigate or prevent the escalation of tensions or conflicts, such as the existence of dialogue channels, mutual deterrence, economic interdependence, and multilateral cooperation. They also urge the parties to exercise restraint, respect, and responsibility, and to seek peaceful and constructive solutions to their differences.