Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, an avowed rock fan, tries some air guitar while traveling by van to a site inspection in Jakarta on Aug. 22, 2013. The charismatic governor is predicted to make a run for Indonesia's presidency in 2014. (Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images)
As reported and promised in this space, here we go again: A stab at forecasting the news from Asia, before it happens. Having offered 13 predictions for 2013 — and managed a roughly 50% success rate (we gave 1/2 and 1/4 points, for certain forecasts), now I am going with 14 for '14, as it were. Except where otherwise noted, all views are my own — and again, many if not most may prove utterly wrong.
1. With so many critical elections coming in 2014, I thought I’d start at the ballot box. In India first: Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) win the April vote in the world's largest democracy — but an outright majority eludes the BJP, and only after a very messy post-election does Modi become Prime Minister.
2. Joko runs. In Indonesia, after much hand-wringing and suspense, the charismatic Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo — known often as "Jokowi" — enters the race for President, after receiving the blessing of former President and Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI) leader Megawati Sukarnoputri.
3. Joko wins. In the end it isn't even close. Jokowi captures a larger share of the vote than any President since the last years of Suharto.
4. In Afghanistan, peace wins. Meaning — no prediction here on a winner to take the place of longtime President Hamid Karzai, but the vote that ushers in the post-Karzai era passes, mercifully, with far less violence than had been anticipated.
5. Still in Afghanistan, a good year for the Afghan National Army (ANA). After the vote and as the ISAF mandate winds down (all combat forces will be out by the end of 2014), the Taliban wage fresh campaigns against the new government but fail to do serious harm, or to take significant territory.
6. China. While economic and security issues fill Xi Jinping's crowded in-box, the Year of the Horse brings unprecedented public anger over something else: the unrelenting and increasingly nasty quality of the air in major cities. (Also in 2014, China reaches the unpleasant milestone of doubling the levels of U.S. carbon emissions.)
7. On the subject of protest, remember the phrase "Occupy Central." That's the banner under which a pro-democracy movement will take to the streets in Hong Kong in July, leading to some of the largest protests in Hong Kong's main business district since the 1997 handover.
8. Iran deal. Despite all the obstacles and all the cynicism and all the opposition from Washington to Tehran, the U.S. and Iran and other nations arrive at a more comprehensive deal on the nuclear front. This one fuels even more criticism than the 2013 interim agreement, but the parties sign it with considerable fanfare at Geneva. Israeli officials simmer.
9. A handshake at the UN. In the wake of the above item, and in the spirit of the U.S.-Iranian thaw, Presidents Obama and Rouhani shake hands on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York in September. It is the first time leaders of the two nations have done so in 35 years.
10. For China and Japan, no war and no peace. Having declared their dueling air defense zones, these two Asia powerhouses trade ever-hotter rhetoric and have several small-scale but dangerous run-ins near the disputed Senkaku/Diayu Islands. None of these run-ins lead to casualties.
11. China's tough talk and behavior in this area manages to mellow the enmity between Japan and Korea. A northeast Asian version of the enemy of my enemy is my friend…
12. In North Korea, even Dennis Rodman tires of the regime’s hard line. No more basketball friendship tours with Kim Jong Un.
13. World Cup fever, Tokyo edition. Helped by a relatively easy draw (a bracket shared with Greece, Ivory Coast, and Colombia), Japan advances through the first round of the World Cup in Brazil. Much is made of the fact that Japan gets through while the U.S. does not (the U.S. suffers in part thanks to a brutal bracket — with Germany, Portugal and Ghana).
14. The coming year will see a rise in cooperation between Hollywood studios and a growing number of Chinese partners. Together they are trying hard to make movies that might take advantage of one of Beijing's most visible state-controlled market experiments — the gradual opening of the commercial media sector. But we predict this increased Hollywood-China partnership will turn a blind eye to China's censors. This secretive board of men and women will continue to deny groundbreaking Chinese filmmakers such Jia Zhangke the ability to show their films to their own countrymen. Meanwhile, Hollywood studios will concede to making changes to their films to appease China's censors and access the market, thereby making it harder for Chinese filmmakers to fight against censorship.
Do you have any predictions for Asia for 2014? Share them in the comments below.