2019: Geopolitical Year in Review Public  

Article by Bobb Drake.

At Nimdzi, we categorize global readiness into five pillars of intelligence: geopolitical, cultural, language, market and technical (internationalization). The world of global readiness is vast and complex and it would be impossible to cover all trends in any brief manner. We have therefore chosen to highlight four important themes and events of 2019.

Year of indigenous languages

The United Nations declared 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages (IY2019) to recognize the crucial role that languages play in people’s daily lives and in their cultural identity, history and traditions. At the closing ceremony of IY2019, the UN declared 2022-2032 as the Decade of Indigenous Languages, with 2020-2021 being preparatory years for the decade. 

We covered some of the initiatives in support of indigenous languages different companies have been undertaking in our article on the subject. Over the coming years, we can expect a growing awareness of the importance of preserving indigenous languages and cultures. 

2019 INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF Indigenous Languages - 2019 Geopolitical Review

Cultural appropriation will continue to be a hot button issue, and savvy businesses will develop strategies around effectively working with and representing indigenous cultures in their marketing, media and products.   

Macedonia naming dispute

After a 27-year dispute with Greece over its use of the name Macedonia, the former Yugoslav republic changed its name to (Republic of) North Macedonia on February 12, 2019. This followed the approval of a constitutional amendment enacting into Macedonian law the Prespa Agreement, brokered by the UN and signed by leaders of both countries in June 2018.

Green and Macedonian Prime Ministers - 2019 Geopolitical Review

Greek and Macedonian prime ministers Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zael in Oteševo after the signing of the Prespa Agreement

While not necessarily enthusiastic about the name change, the majority of the population of North Macedonia saw it as the price to be paid for unblocking the Greek veto that prevented the country from joining the EU and NATO. 

The country had previously been known by a number of names (some of which were contentious to one side or the other) including: the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYRO Macedonia, FYROM, Macedonia and Republic of Macedonia.

The term Macedonian continues to be used to refer to the language of North Macedonia and when relating to its ethnic and cultural identity. It is also used in a different sense to refer to the region of Macedonia in Greece. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia, the adjectival reference for the State, its official organs and other public entities should be of the Republic of North Macedonia or of North Macedonia.

Although officially resolved, the naming dispute still remains a somewhat sensitive topic to nationalists on both sides of the border. 

Mapping Crimea

The Autonomous Republic of Crimea is internationally recognized de jure as part of Ukraine, but the Crimean Peninsula was annexed formally by the Russian Federation as Republic of Crimea and the Federal City of Sevastopol on March 18, 2014, following the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution. 

Shortly thereafter, Google Maps began showing Crimea as part of Russia when viewed from within the borders of that country and with no clear border between Crimea and Ukraine or Russia when viewed from outside the country. In March 2019, Google “corrected an error” that showed some Russian iOS users a version of Google Maps depicting Crimea as Ukrainian territory. 

In November 2019, Apple Maps and Apple’s Weather app bowed to Russian pressure and began showing Crimea as Russian territory for users inside Russia, while not labelling the peninsula as belonging to either country for viewers outside the country. 

Under Russian law, it is a criminal offense to label Crimea as Ukrainian territory, and Google, Apple and other tech companies have the difficult task of balancing compliance with local laws and internationally objective depiction of disputed territories and borders on digital maps. 

We may expect to see governments increasingly continue to use corporations as a back door to influence the legitimization of their territorial claims that are not recognized by international bodies.

Crimea - Geopolitical year in review

Satellite Image of Crimea

Companies who do business in China should be well aware of the One China Policy and sensitivities around Taiwanese sovereignty, proper labelling of the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macao, and various geographic boundary disputes. For many an unwitting global enterprise over the years these have been a source of geopolitical run-ins with Chinese authorities, and 2019 was no exception. 

In March, Chinese authorities destroyed 30,000 copies of an English language map destined for export to an unknown country because it showed “problematic” Chinese borders with Taiwan and India.

Amid the Hong Kong protests beginning mid-year, came a rise in what a May 2018 US Press Secretary statement described as “Orwellian nonsense and part of a growing trend by the Chinese Communist Party to impose its political views on American citizens and private companies.” Particularly for the fashion industry. 

In August, Versace, Coach and Givenchy came under the fire of Chinese authorities for listing Hong Kong, Macao and Taipei, Taiwan, without mention of China, on the back of t-shirts. They were included among other major global cities which were named along with their respective countries. In October, Christian Dior issued a statement supporting China’s territorial sovereignty after it was criticized for using a map of China that excluded Taiwan in a presentation. 

PRC - Geopolitical year in review

At issue with the PRC: lack of indication of Chinese ownership of Hong Kong (SAR) and Taiwan (disputed)

Taiwan’s flag appeared to be hidden on the iOS 13.1.1. emoji keyboard for users in Hong Kong and Macao in late September, although the flag still displayed on websites and apps and could be used by typing in “Taiwan” in English and selecting it from the next word predictor or by copying and pasting.

In early October, the contentious and internationally unrecognized 9-Dash-Line map showing Chinese ownership of much of the South China Sea appeared in the movie Abominable and on the US television network ESPN in a story covering a crisis with China for the National Basketball Association (NBA) over a tweet from a Houston Rockets general manager in support of protesters in Hong Kong. 

That same weekend, Blizzard preemptively banned a Hearthstone player for comments supporting the Hong Kong protesters for fears of pressures from Chinese censors. It was at this time that things met a tipping point with increased international public awareness of Chinese censorship pressures on global enterprises, and Blizzard’s actions were met with a severe backlash. 

In an environment where the world has become more aware of issues in China, including Uyghur re-education camps in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and the continued situation in Hong Kong and the South China Sea, we should expect to see growing international scrutiny of companies who kowtow to Chinese geopolitical censorship, which companies doing business in China will have to balance with the reality of continued pressures from the Chinese government.

The dynamic and unpredictable nature of geopolitical and geocultural issues requires businesses to maintain a steady pulse on past and current events that might have an effect on their global operations. As we continue to see how the effects of these highlighted themes and events unfold, we will encounter inevitable novel issues such as the coronavirus which has been affecting businesses both in China and worldwide throughout the new year.


This article was researched and written by Nimdzi’s Director of Geocultural Research, Bobb Drake. If you wish to find out more about this topic, please reach out to Bobb at bobb@nimdzi.com.

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