Seven predictions for the world in 2021

Our US editor on why tensions between India and China will escalate and how Amazon and the EU are heading for a clash. 

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Though it may feel like longer, 2021 is only a little over a week old. Before the year progresses much further, therefore, I am tempting fate by making predictions for America and the wider world. Here are seven things I think will come to pass:

The US will not achieve “herd immunity” through vaccination until late autumn at earliest

In order for people go back to some approximation of normality — not the way things were, but closer to that than not being able to leave our homes safely for fear of the pandemic —between 80 and 90 per cent of the population needs either to be vaccinated or be immune through prior infection. The US is currently nowhere near on track to hit that threshold. Twenty million people were meant to be vaccinated by the end of last year; in the end, it was closer to four million. State and local government are trying to establish an order in which vaccines are given out — those who work in hospitals are first in line, for example — but aren’t doing so quickly enough and so vaccines are expiring. In some nursing homes, staff are refusing vaccines outright. I would be delighted to be proven wrong, but I predict that I will spend 2021 largely the way I spent 2020.

[Hear more from Emily on the World Review podcast]

Tensions between India and China will escalate

Last year, India and China clashed along a disputed border in the Himalayan region. Already this year, India has apprehended a Chinese soldier in the area. There is no reason to think that we won’t see continued tensions from that region, as well as between the two countries more generally, particularly if the US under Joe Biden tries to work with India to counter China.

The “last dictator of Europe” will remain in power a little longer

Last year was a year of protests, and few were as memorable as the protests against electoral fraud and for democracy in Belarus. That said, I think that Belarus’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko, will find a way to remain in power through 2021. That isn’t because the protesters aren’t courageous or determined. It is because at present I do not see what levers they can pull to finally force Lukashenko out.

The EU and Amazon are headed for a clash

Last November, the European Commission let Amazon know that it was its preliminary view that the company had breached EU antitrust laws and that it was opening a second investigation. The pandemic's ensuing economic turmoil distracted attention while Jeff Bezos got richer, but I think that the stage is set for another classic performance of “Margrethe Vestager takes on an American tech giant”.

The Olympics will somehow take place

Will every country be able to participate? I doubt it. Will it be a scaled down version of what it was supposed to be in 2020? Yes. Will we feel particularly good watching it? Probably not. But do I think Japan will pull off Tokyo 2020 in 2021? I do.

Saudi Arabia will change its formal relationship with Israel after King Salman

Saudi Arabia and Israel do not currently have diplomatic relations. I predict that, should King Salman, 85, pass away, his son, Mohammad bin Salman, his heir apparent and the man reportedly responsible for the brutal murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, will change that, following the example of the United Arab Emirates.

DC will not get statehood

Washington, DC, should be a state. It should be a state because hundreds of thousands of people should not pay taxes without representation. It should be a state because it’s lack of statehood serves to disenfranchise a majority non-white population. And it should be a state because, without statehood, we’re at the mercy of the federal government to send in the National Guard in the no-longer-hypothetical situation in which a wild mob comes to the city at the behest of the president and storms the Capitol Building. But DC will, in all likelihood, not be a state, because even though there is now a Democratic White House and Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress, adding representation for 700,000 people is still seen as socialism, with DC residents perceived as less deserving of representation. And so what is, to me, a very obvious thing that could be done to rectify a longstanding injustice will continue to go undone.

Emily Tamkin is the New Statesman’s US editor

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