Sunday, January 1, 2017

Goodbye 2016

It is difficult to sit down on the Eve of  New Year’s day to try and evaluate what the past year has been.  At all levels of interface - global, national, professional and personal levels.  Each sphere stands on its own, with its own unique characteristics and occurrences.  There is much to be thankful for, in terms of blessings and opportunities.  Yet there is pause for reflection, for a good introspective look at how things could have been done better, on a number of different fronts.  Have we failed in relating to different groups of people in our immediate vicinity, in the various communities.  Are there lessons to leave to my three children?  (Incidentally, this is the reason for this blog.  I would hope to write a great deal more on this medium – and this may develop into a full-fledged resolution for 2017)   Not wishing to make any excuses for myself, the reality is that in real time, it may be difficult to pursue a  rigorous and daily rationalisation that is didactically reflective and accurately depicts the correct analysis for the events in hand at the time they transpire.  Increasingly our lives are fashioned by what we read online – electronic renderings of news and misrepresentations.  They do fashion our thinking (some of us are persuaded by what we wish to read for ourselves).

So let’s make a limited start – Global and National observations.

Global

We have to say goodbye to the Obama presidency.  Its report card?  A liberal agenda, which saw the legalization of same sex marriages, sits very uncomfortably with one’s sense of morality and spiritual teaching.  The sheer permissiveness that received the full support of the White House is what contributes to an insidious degradation of the social and moral order.  How do we even begin to fathom what lies next, in a country which is supposed to lead the free world (for how much longer, one wonders).  In a US president, one expects to see a good and effective communicator, who balances eloquence with a commensurate ability to get things done.  Not so easy to find this in one man.  But I think Obama tried.  In terms of his legacy (which is for the next administration to re-write) this President did exemplify family values, tried to introduce affordable health care, and Americans did benefit.  On a number of foreign policy fronts, questions remain – Russia, Syria and Israel – and the position taken by the US does present problems which are not soluble.  The lack of intervention has been manifestly apparent.

Then there is Trump, and the mass repudiation of the establishment and traditional institutions, that swept him into a dominance of the electoral college.  The next month alone will give some hint on what lies ahead.  The rise of populism and the blatant refusal to accept the status quo will forge ahead in a number of European countries. The UK’s management of Brexit will receive additional texture this coming year. What remains is a sad precedent for governance by referendum (without any preset parameters for success).  Never again should critical issues of sovereignty be so decided.  The resignations that followed also go to show the absence of any sense of responsibility on the part of leaders to accept and shoulder responsibility for campaign positions and statements made – in haste and expediency.

Then there is China – a real concern.  We have seen several instances where China has been flexing – imposing its views on countries and supplicants.  How will they approach ASEAN in the next year, perhaps to the detriment of Singapore.  Lee Kuan Yew has written of China’s repeated guarantees that it seeks nothing more than a peaceful rise and that it will never become a hegemon.  Two views are advanced.  One view is that China will quietly become strong and quietly increase their influence in the region, without having to act like an overbearing presence.  The other view is that China will flex its muscles and try to browbeat everyone, using various means.  It is likely to be a hybrid mixture of both views that will advance the agenda for the future.  The US cannot be counted to provide the counter-balance for the region.  There is much that can contribute to concern for the future.  China will be able to demonstrate that it can keep apace with the US in terms of the military, technology and other advances.  Size does count and it matters - especially for Singapore.

National

How does Singapore position itself viz China? There have been several instances of ‘flexing’, and also indirect pressure.  Can a small country rise above this pettiness and move into a new avuncular dimension of diplomacy that will see mutual interests satisfied, at least to large degree.  It is a time to test our diplomatic nous.  For example, there are thousands of patent agents and lawyers in China – their capabilities are growing, and it is not unexpected that they will spread their influence and services into the rest of Asia.  This is a space that we will have to watch.

At home an economic slowdown would mean that we have to make haste with a restructuring of the economy.  New economic areas of national priority will emerge (the Committee for the Future Economy’s report is imminent) and set the agenda for the next few years. Can the workforce, including skilled PMETs adjust and adapt to this new disruption?  The skills future program must succeed, and failure is not an option.  Can the innovation creation and turn-around occur quickly enough to turn the economy around?  Will a new resilience package be rolled out?  What about the competitiveness of the Sing dollar, and non-oil domestic exports – amidst a global climate that appears to be veering away from free trade and globalization?  The good-bye to 2016 ushers these questions for which answers beckon in 2017.

Amidst these uncertainties, I turn to my 3 children – Ashley (7), James (3) and Joshua (0).  Their future and wellbeing is what motivates me and my wife to find the energy and impetus to carry on, to contribute and make a good life for each of them.  Nothing would be possible without God's help.


Happy New Year.

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