How the world will change in 2020
The FT's US managing editor Peter Spiegel, Moscow bureau chief Henry Foy, chief foreign affairs commentator Gideon Rachman and Asia editor Jamil Anderlini give their predictions for the coming year and discuss the threats to the liberal world order
Produced, filmed and edited by Joe Sinclair, Margot Tiounine, Ben Marino, Donnell Newkirk and Tom Griggs
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The biggest threat to the liberal international order that was established after world war two is, in one man, Donald Trump. He has made it, frankly, his singular foreign policy aim to dismantle that global order, and he just doesn't like globalisation. He doesn't like global institution. He does like internationalism.
But there's another issue in the man in that he is, as we all know, a deal-maker, and he likes to deal bilaterally with individual world leaders that has any strand of authoritarianism in him. He likes to deal with the strongmen-- Kim Jong Un; Erdogan in Turkey; Putin, obviously, in Russia. These are men who can get things done like he thinks he can. So he likes to deal with people who are traditionally American foes in the international arena, all of whom have been trying to undermine many of these same institutions that have upheld the liberal order for decades.
2020 will see few major changes here in Russia, as the regime of President Vladimir Putin enters his 21st year looking solid, if not without challenges. Economic growth will remain depressed by western sanctions and tight government spending as Russian households continue to feel the pinch. That could result in more protests, especially in major cities like Moscow.
However, where there will be major changes is inside President Putin's ruling United Russia party, which has been losing voters and candidates in recent years. With critical parliamentary elections in 2021, the Kremlin knows it needs to overhaul that brand or face trouble at the ballot box.
The year 2020 is meant to be a bright new dawn for Europe, but the new European Commission under Ursula von der Leyen charts a new direction for the EU. But in reality, the weather is going to be a bit more like this: grey, uncertain, a bit depressing because, actually, Europe faces a year of drift and lack of leadership. The EU actually is just as eager as Boris Johnson to get Brexit done, but that's going to be really tough because they're going to move straight into very difficult trade negotiations under a very tight deadline.
And the reality is that Brexit is going to suck up a whole lot of energy, both political and emotional.
In 2019, the Chinese economy grew at its slowest pace in three decades. Investment is growing much slower than before. Inflation is now edging up, thanks to the decimation of China's hog population caused by African swine fever. And thirdly, we've seen a record number of defaults on China's enormous pile of debt that is building up throughout the entire economy.
Now, in 2020, none of these factors are going away, and the slowdown in the Chinese economy is expected to continue. Behind me is the epicentre of the Hong Kong protests that have rocked this international financial centre for the last eight months. Those protests have been the biggest open rebellion on Chinese soil in three decades.
The Communist party in Beijing is showing no signs of backing down in the face of these protests. The protesters are also showing no signs of backing down, and as a result, in 2020, the crisis is almost certain to continue and maybe even worsen throughout the year.
Thanks to the US election, Moscow knows that the anti-Russian rhetoric in Washington is not going to end soon. That means nobody here expects any let-up in sanctions in 2020 and even the possibility of new restrictions against Russian businessmen, companies, and finance. That will mean Moscow will continue to shift trade payments and national wealth holdings out of the dollar and also continue its pivot towards Asia, the Middle East, and Africa in search of new partners to replace the west.
The lack of high-level co-operation between Moscow and Washington could also imperil global arms agreements such as New START. That, which, caps the number of nuclear warheads held by both countries, will expire in early 2021 unless negotiations start soon.
The main reason to expect 2020 to be a year of political disappointment in Europe lies in the big national capitals. In Berlin, the Merkel era is clearly coming to a close, and the main political parties are now preoccupied by internal struggles over ideology and over leadership, and that's going to make it very hard for Berlin to provide leadership for the rest of Europe.
Meanwhile, in Paris, President Emmanuel Macron has been struggling for a couple of years to provide the European Union with new impetus and new direction. But he's in trouble too because the other European leaders have not been as responsive as Mr Macron would like. The Germans and others disagree with him on issues such as the future of Nato and on Russia. And also his prestige internationally is suffering a little bit because he's struggling at home to get reforms through and in the face of big demonstrations on the streets of Paris and elsewhere.
2020 could also be the year that Russia's most risky overseas venture turns sour. Moscow entered the Syrian Civil War in 2015 and despite many claims of mission accomplished, has found itself bogged down in the conflict Putin is engaged in a delicate diplomatic dance between opposing neighbours - Iran, Turkey, Israel, and the Syrian government itself. 2020 could be the year that the music stops, and the Kremlin's recent run of luck in the Middle East comes to an end. That would likely force Moscow to make a choice it has delayed for years, between President Assad and peace.
Italy and Spain are also looking at a year of highly unstable politics. The Spanish government is struggling with the secessionist movement in Catalonia, and Spain has had four elections in four years that have failed to yield a stable government. Political uncertainty is nothing new for Italy, but 2020 could see another government fall and the return to government of Matteo Salvini, a populist nationalist with very eurosceptic views that have not typically been the ones that Italy have represented in Europe.
So put all of those national political situations together, and you have a recipe for another year of drift and political stasis in Europe in 2020.
The US and China have declared a truce in their trade war that roiled the global economy in 2019. Even what's been announced so far could still fall apart in 2020, and getting to a phase two or phase three of a much broader agreement is going to be incredibly difficult.
If Donald Trump is re-elected, I think it's fair to say that that liberal order is under real threat. The establishment in Washington has been slowly weakening, but able to fend off many of its attacks on traditional alliances, the traditional institutions. This is the deep state he keeps railing about. Another four years of that, I think it raises questions whether any of these institutions will survive, from Nato, the WTO, IMF, World Bank.
If there is not American financing for these things, if there is not American diplomatic support, remember, a lot of these things are about American leadership. They're about America as an example, and many of the countries that go along with this global liberal order do so because they see the US as a provider of public good. And certainly, a Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, would want to see changes to the way that it operates. But in terms of completely dismantling, what we come to known as the post-war order, I think a Democrat winning the election in November 2020, we'll see a shift back to what has been for 80 years American foreign policy internationally.