Asia has more people than any other continent, about 4.5 billion as of last month. It’s home to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies. You naturally expect things to happen here. And they do: North Korea worries its neighbors as well as Washington with a buildup of a reserve of long-range missiles. The economic expansion of China has excited dozens of countries where it invests and trades. But Chinese military expansion keeps wary eyes trained on Beijing, especially in the region's second-largest nation, India. Other countries fret over Islamic State-inspired Muslim insurgents, refugees and political transition.

Against these backdrops, here are Asia’s top five 2017 stories that are likely to weigh heavily into next year:

1. North Korean Missile Development

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stepped up hostilities in 2017. The North Asian totalitarian state tested missiles at least 15 times this year, a jump over 2016, despite Trump’s threats and extra-tough economic sanctions announced by the United Nations. The sudden killing of Kim’s estranged half-brother in Malaysia in February raised questions about Pyongyang’s political influence offshore. China still plays both sides but tilts toward North Korea as an old Communist ally and friendly border country.

South Korea also struggled this year to balance its prized economic relationship with Beijing against its military defense against Pyongyang. Few expect war, however, and missile tests tapered in late 2017. But the diplomatic standoff remains as volatile now as a year ago.

2. Unstoppable Chinese Economic Expansion 

Although GDP growth has consolidated around 7% per year, down from headier days before 2011, China remains as on the move economically now as ever. It’s gaining ground in high technology and Shenzhen is becoming an international go-to spot to build anything electronic.

Focus this year also shifted to Chinese offshore investment. Its 4-year-old, $900 billion Belt-and-Road initiative aimed at smoothing trade by building infrastructure all over Asia shaped up this year as a boom for massive Chinese state-owned firms looking to expand across borders. Next year, investment recipients will watch for any blow-back, such as any poor quality projects, impact from investment on natural resources, or pressure to support Beijing in territorial disputes such as the South China Sea.

3. On-Again, Off-Again India-China Ties

A sudden, tense 73-day military standoff on disputed a Himalayan plateau in mid-2017 reminded disputants India and China of unsettled territorial problems going back to the 1960s. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made up at an event in September, but a stray Indian drone irked China again this month. Like other countries, India is watching China’s new military technology, from an aircraft carrier to a giant seaplane, along with the Chinese pursuit of a stricter command structure for the armed forces and increased willingness to deploy hardware offshore.

Asia’s two biggest countries are also fast-growing economic rivals. India is building up its own belt-and-road-style program, and its three-year-old Act East strategy may also be aimed at keeping China’s economic influence in check. Modi met in November heads of state from allies Australia, Japan and the U.S. to discuss ensuring Asian seas stay open to international use, a slight to China’s claims.

4. Spread of Japanese Leadership

The U.S. exit in January from a 12-nation, Asia-Pacific free trade deal covering 40% of the world GDP handed Japan the chance to pick it up. Under de facto Japanese leadership, the 11 remaining nations met over the past 11 months to recompose the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Trump called a bad deal for Americans. Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose party won snap election wins in October, happened to want exactly that kind of chance. His government had already built the world’s 7th-strongest armed forces, possibly to be enhanced in 2018 or beyond by broader constitutional powers despite inevitable complaints from China. Abe’s meeting with the Indian, Australian and U.S. head of state in November helped add Japanese political weight in Asia.

The country's official development assistance keeps spreading around Southeast Asia, too, a way of competing with Chinese economic expansion in the same region. Japanese investment in the region had already risen three times from 2011 to $181 billion in mid-2016.

5. Muslim Influence in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia, a group of countries with a combined population of about 630 million, popped onto the scene in 2016 as a hotbed of retail consumption due to growing wealth. This year the region caught attention for battles involving Muslim populations. The chief evidence was Myanmar’s pressure against the minority Muslim Rohingya population. In 2017 at least 600,000 fled to escape persecution to neighboring Bangladesh as villages burned, marking an overall intensification of a conflict that hatched in the 1970s. Myanmar says it wants stability over its western regions where the Rohingyas live.

Also this year, Islamic State-inspired people from Malaysia and Indonesia helped two Muslim groups in the southern Philippines fight government troops for control of a 200,000-population city. Five months of fighting that killed 1,132 people, including a Malaysian and a Filipino who Islamic State had reportedly tapped to be its emir in Southeast Asia. Officials in the Philippines now fear more outbreaks of Islamic State-inspired rebel violence over perceptions that Muslims deserve a better cut of the country’s resources.