Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Year that was 2012 - Part I

If one is able to recall this year, there are too many specific incidents to recount.  We take a moment to revisit events past, to rationalize the divine path that lies ahead.  These events divide into international and national events.  Each category has lessons for the future.

International events appear distant, but calamity resonates at a personal level.  The fear of political unrest and instability, such as what happened in Syria, with its escalation of full scale civil war. The rebels surged forth against the Assad regime, with almost 30,000 dead.  In Egypt, in the wake of Arab spring, a riotous city finally saw the election of Morsi as President.  Yet a new constitution was proposed shortly thereafter which has invited more vitriol and the strong islamist agenda behind the amendments has not found favour amongst minorities, who are going to be endangered with the passing of these amendments.  In Libya, who can forget the anniversary of 9/11 commemorated by the killing of the American ambassador during the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.  The middle east remains a tinder box, with Israel and Hamas doing  battle in Gaza.  A fragile peace has been brokered, but for how long?  Only God knows.  Asia has seen the ongoing reform of Myanmar, including national elections that saw the Aung San Suu Kyi restored to parliament.  The US President visited Myanmar for the first time.  Yet reform is marred by ethnic conflict between buddists and muslims in Rakhine.

Like many countries, North Korea and Hong Kong saw a change of leaders.  Any hope that the North Korean regime would be more liberal and open under Kim Jong Un, was quickly dispelled with tough talking and unauthorised missile testing. The new Hong Kong Chief Executive is off to a precarious start to his term.  Revelations that Leung Chun-ying tried to cover up illegal construction at his home have not helped.  Especially, when Leung criticised his rival for building violations during the elections.  Earlier this year, Leung also survived a no-confidence vote.  Be that as it may, the Chinese leadership appears to back Leung for now, and recently said that Beijing’s cone country, two systems’ policy towards Hong Kong would not change.

In Pakistan the Supreme Court sacked the prime minister for not following its order to re-open a case of corruption against its ex-President.

South Korea has just seen the election of its first female Present.  Will the peace be made with North Korea?  Unlikely, if North Korea persists in provocative actions like missile testing.  Taiwan saw the re-election of Ma Ying-Jeou.

In Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party was returned to government, after spending the last few years in the wilderness.  Shinzo Abe has recovered physically to assume his old job as PM.  The territorial dispute of some islands in the East China sea will continue to affect relations between China and Japan for the foreseeable future.  A strong anti-Japanese sentiment is brewing in China, and this does not augur well for the future.

China has seen an interesting year with the unceremonious removal of Bo Xilai from party positions because of his wife’s involvement in the murder of a British businessman.  The spring cleaning of the Chinese establishment continues.  The establishment has seen off Bo Xilai.  Xi Jinping is now China’s new leader.  It is interesting how the Chinese Communist Party has moved away from ideology, and is looking for a new paradigm of legitimacy, whilst battling corruption at a systemic level, and seeking to engage the world with platforms that it will define for the future.

What can we say about Europe?  Summits galore have yielded little in the form of results.  The European Central Bank had to outline an Outright Monetary Transactions programme to purchase short term government bonds from countries that sought assistance.  Spain, Italy and Greece have struggling debt ridden economies and struggling banks.  Searing political changes occurred in France which saw the ignominious exit of Nicolas Sarkozy and the strong return of the socialists, led by Francois Holland.  President Holland’s approval is headed to single digits after just seven months in office, because of spending cuts.

Great Britain had a mixed year, celebrating notable successes in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, and the London Olympics.  The latter clearly edged the Beijing Olympics, and was a strong morale uplift for Britons.  Who can forget the rain soaked Regata, which gave Prince Philip a bladder infection, which he struggled with for some time.  The government’s continued austerity measures and tax increases, have however, not resonated so well.  Special mention should be made of the ‘granny tax’ which was introduced during this year’s budget.  The top rate of income tax was cut whilst the tax burden on pensioners was increased.  A strange political choice, indeed.

In the US, an excessive  $2bn campaign resulted in the re-election of Obama back to the Whitehouse.  The Democrats now control the Senate, against a Republican House of Representatives.  The Republican Mitt Romney ran a campaign that was ineffectual, plagued by many blunders and mishaps.  He has every reason to be disappointed, not having prevailed amidst a challenging economic climate, high unemployment and rising prices over the past 4 years (for almost every consumer/household item except potatoes and TV sets).  I do not agree with Obaman politics, but he is affable, and I can see why he strikes a better note with the voters.

These are some of the events which I have considered memorable from the international perspective.    

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