Japan's agenda for 2014, why New Taipei's mayor could be the saviour of Taiwan's ruling party and how Ho Chi Minh City is reaching for the skies.
With eight runways and a capacity for 130 million passengers a year, Beijing’s new international airport will be one of the largest and busiest in the world. Work starts in 2014 and may be finished within three years.
Japanese prime minsters have had a poor track record in recent years, tending to disappear before they’ve made their mark. But with two election victories under his belt and three years till the next battle, Shinzo Abe finally has a hint of permanence. Now the harder part: turning words into actions.
Abe’s balancing act is how to tackle Japan’s quadrillion-yen public debt – over twice the size of the economy – without trampling on the green shoots of growth. Consumption tax is set to rise from 5 to 8 per cent in April, showing foreign investors he is serious about reform. Ending deflation sounds good but if prices rise and wages don’t, Abe will have a problem.
Until now, governments have not allowed Japan to use military means to come to the aid of its allies. Abe would like to see that changed. As the US makes budget cuts, more responsibility for Japan will be welcomed.
Despite vast quantities of public money, news from the stricken nuclear plant continues to be pessimistic. Abe’s calming words convinced the International Olympic Committee when it awarded the 2020 Games to Tokyo, but accusations of mismanagement persist. Pro-nuclear Abe has been reticent about his energy policy but will soon have decisions to make.
Ho Chi Minh City continues to become a more modern global city, at least architecturally. Its 68-floor Zapata-designed Bitexo Financial Tower will be dwarfed by a proposed 100-plus storey Saigon Lotte Tower, which could break ground next year. What’s more, 2014 will see the advancement of major infrastructure projects that will be crucial to Ho Chi Minh City’s future: its first metro line should be inching toward completion in 2018 and next year the city should break ground on a third metro line.
Vietnam’s most populous city also has 1,000km of rivers and canals; taking cues from Paris and New York, its waterfronts are set to be redeveloped at a cost of $522m (€382m).
Forging closer ties with China has not done much to revive Taiwan’s economy. The island state’s economic stagnation is one reason why the public is becoming increasingly fed up with the ruling Kuomintang party. With presidential elections set for 2016, Kuomintang is in need of a reboot. One party saviour could come in the form of Eric Liluan Chu, the 52-year-old mayor of newly formed New Taipei city, Taiwan’s largest.
Since switching from academia to politics in 1998, Chu has proven to be a deft administrator and a favourite among voters and Kuomintang party members alike. He is now pushing for the cities of Taipei, New Taipei and Keelung to be run as a single municipality comprising seven million residents. Success could improve the mayor’s chances of securing key endorsements from his party for a presidential run.
Much of the international focus will be on Rahul Gandhi’s attempt to extend the dynasty – he is expected to replace Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the Congress party’s candidate. But Gandhi, who is not the most confident or competent of politicians, will face a strong challenge from the BJP’s controversial Gujarat governor, Narendra Modi.
This will be a decisive year for Afghanistan. Not only will there be a new president – Hamid Karzai is due to step down – but Nato combat troops are also scheduled to leave, 13 years after they first arrived in the country. Neither the election nor the withdrawal is likely to be smooth.
If Jakarta governor Joko Widodo – known to one and all as Jokowi – decides to stand he will be the runaway favourite. Young (relatively) and with a good track record (relatively), Jokowi is very different from Indonesia’s normal type of politician.