No doubt peace is not on the entire Earth. The turmoil in 2015 was ominous enough to spell continued trouble in 2016. Will the world get worse than 2015? Let’s do a brief review and a guarded assessment on each troubled area or issue then cast my optimistic view based on a simple reason I will reveal at the end of this article.
The annexation of Crimea by Russia is certainly troublesome to the U.S. and NATO. The doubling down of Russian involvement in Syria of course does not simplify the Middle East situation. The ISIS’s stay and expansion strategy and the increased terrorists-activities highlighted by the Paris bombing and San Bernardino killing heightens the tension in the Middle East and worldwide. But these developments also have created complex dynamics that offer opportunities for the stakeholders to ponder. The refugees forced out of the Middle East and potential more terrorists attacks have induced a hidden desire for the power players to collaborate in containing the ME crisis, to tame the terrorists and to avoid Islamic social unrest spreading elsewhere in the world. A new sanction against Russia executed differently may just get Russia to temper her behavior for the better in 2016. The Iraq and Afghanistan may also move to more stability as an Afghanistan-Pakistan-US-China conference is brewing to take place in 2016.
On the nuclear threat, Iran may meet the terms with a roll-back of sanctions. North Korea may be still unpredictable but most likely no one will pay more attention to her. South Korea has improved her relation with China bonded by their trade and shared perspective on history as the two presidents reviewed the 70th WW II Anniversary military parade together on Tian-An-Men. The recent admission of the ‘comfort women’ issue by the Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is a good sign of Japan to tone down her militaristic foreign policy. Abe formally and officially apologized to the South Koreans and promised to set up a fund for compensating the ‘comfort women’ victimized by the Imperial Japanese Army. The international efforts condemning the Japanese Imperial Army on the ‘comfort women’ issue finally began to pay off.
South China Sea has become a new hot spot in 2015. China has persisted in her claims regarding the disputed islands in the South China Sea and also increased effort in infrastructure construction on her islands with the same goal of maintaining freedom of navigation in the South China Sea so declared by the U.S. There was never any trouble in maritime traffic in the South China Sea region, thus any presence of external naval powers cannot be justified based on maritime security concern. China will continue her island construction unless stopped by force. However, no one would want to use force for lack of justification, hence, ASEAN and China will, most likely, develop a code of conduct for the South China Sea to dose out any flare there.
From the Greece debt crisis to China stock market plunge, it does spell uncertainty for the global economy. However, the U.S. economy is gaining stability and strength with a reasonable good outlook for 2016. Although there is competition and maneuver in the international currency war, there is no advantage to anyone to see China collapsing in her economy. The efforts China is pushing on the “One Belt and One Road” are principally accepted by the Eurasian world anticipating a positive impact on the world economy. Accepting the Chinese RMB as the fifth currency into the special drawing rights (SDR) in the IMF currency reserve basket has more positive effects for the economic growth of the world as recognized by UK and Germany. The U.S. and Japan probably will make appropriate adjustment in policies to participate in the Eurasian investment arena for their own benefits. The competition in infrastructure development, for example, in the rival of building high speed rails between China and Japan, is a healthy situation for Asia and beyond.
Cyber crisis and Internet management have evolved into an international concern after Snowden’s disclosure on snooping in the name of national security. However, the movement of prevention of cyber surveillance initiated post Snowden may get rolled back and reassessed since the terrorists’ activities intensified in 2015. Evidence shows that the terrorist plots are festered in and facilitated by the Internet; this raises the need for nations to examine the national boundary issue with Internet and its management. Facing common threat from terrorists, perhaps, there would be incentive for countries to cooperate in reducing cyber hacking and attack in 2016 and beyond.
The above review of the past and assessment for the future are definitely carrying an optimistic tone. As promised, I will now reveal my reason for being somewhat optimistic towards the future. The basic reason is surprisingly simple; it is based on the world leaders’ work agenda, noticeable through the travels and visits they made to foreign countries. The head of states do not make a foreign trip lightly. They do so for the following purposes: 1. Policy Announcements (such as China’s One Belt and One Road Blue Print); 2. Business Deals and Commerce (such as bilateral and multilateral investment and trade); 3. Joint Statements (such as to clarify policy); 4. Alliances or Agreements (such as military or maritime); and 5. Seeking Support and Understanding (such as cultural exchange and improving friendship). These objectives tend to produce positive impact to international relations. The more diligently the world leaders are pursuing the above agenda through foreign visits the better will be the outlook of the world.
In 2015, most of the important world leaders made diligent and frequent effort in travelling and visiting foreign countries. The U.S. President Obama made 11 trips in 2015 (he had made 49 trips visited 52 countries during his two-term tenure to-date). China’s President, Xi JinPing, visited 14 countries in 2015 making him the most travelled Chinese leader since 1949. (In contrast, his predecessor, Hu jintao, only made seven trips in his ten-year tenure as the head of the State.) Vladmir Putin, the Russian President, also made 14 trips to foreign countries. The UK Prime Minister David Cameron made 47 trips as of 3/2014 and the French President, Francois Hollande, made 50 trips in 2015. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, as of December 2015, has made thirty-seven foreign trips on five continents (9 in 2014). Even Abe with low rating at home with his Abenomics had made 49 trips in 20 months, making business deals, seeking support for Japan and following China’s footsteps to central Asia countries.
These world leaders’ trips and mutual interaction will generally produce positive effects barring secret negotiations leading to war plots. Obama missing at the 2013 APEC realized how important it is to attend the 2014 APEC; he then reached agreement with Xi on weather exchange and protocol on air encounter; later Xi’s state visit to the U.S. produced an order of 300 Boeing planes are clear example of the positive effects of these foreign visits. Based on the world leaders’ busy travel agenda, I dare say that the World Will Be Better Off in 2016 And Possibly Beyond. Happy New Year to You!