What Will Define East Asia in 2024: Disruption or Disorder?

The 2024 election season will see a sharpening of Indo-Pacific geopolitics due to competing norms, narratives, values, ideologies, political rhetoric, and strategic realities. Taiwan’s mandate in favor of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has unnerved Beijing, leading to escalating tensions and regional disorder. Beijing has been working to weaken Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, while the rules-based international order is tested in the Russia-Ukraine war, Israel-Hamas conflict, and the Red Sea situation.

Despite the resumption of Sino-United States (US) Defense Policy Coordination Talks, flashpoints in East Asia are heating up. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has been pushing the analogy of Washington engineering an Indo-Pacific version of NATO with its “five-four-three-two” strategy.

Stakes are high in Taiwan’s future political trajectory as great power competition sharpens over the decisive election. President Xi Jinping envisions unification as a “historical inevitability,” while China calls Taiwan’s election a choice between “war and peace.” Disinformation campaigns, economic coercion, and grey-zone operations have been unleashed over Taiwan, while Chinese guided-missile destroyer and frigate shadow Filipino and US navies in the South China Sea.

The inter-Korea balance is being destabilized by Pyongyang’s rhetoric and high-powered diplomacy, which has led to provocations following Russia’s use of North Korean ballistic missiles in Ukraine. The US and its East Asian allies have demonstrated determination to double down on strategic coordination at the Camp David Leaders’ Summit. The story of competing trilaterals shaping Northeast Asian politics and order remains an important variable.

Beijing attempts to leverage the China-Japan-South Korea trilateral framework to drive a wedge between Washington and its East Asian allies, while Tokyo and Seoul have curated and advanced its regional trade and investment agenda. The 2024 pivotal election in Taiwan and the upcoming elections in the US will define regional geopolitics. Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party may undergo leadership changes in September due to domestic political turmoil and trust deficit, impacting US regional allies’ national security.

The run-up to the pivotal battle for the White House later this year will further bring forth polarized politics and test American democracy and institutions. The possibility of Trump charting his way back to power is not only gaining traction in US domestic politics but also shaping alliance management amid several ongoing conflicts in policy conversations among allies in Europe and Asia.

G7 policy elites are prioritizing economic security and discussing export control, de-risking, and friend-shoring strategies, with effectiveness dependent on enforceability. However, the US Steel and Nippon Steel deal faced opposition from Congress and workers unions.

The IMF warns that de-risking strategies’ negative impact may extend beyond China, while comprehensive reforms in China could generate positive spillovers. As the US’s global leadership in rules-based order is stretched amid domestic politics, allies in East Asia must focus on diplomacy, resource allocation, and responsibility to deliver global public goods in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.

2024 electionDisorderDisruptionEast AsiaIndo-PacificIndo-Pacific geopoliticsWhat Will Define East Asia in 2024: Disruption or Disorder?