While we are bidding farewell to 2018, a year brimming with major power rivalries, inflamed regional tensions, and prolonged economic tussles.
We saw two forces – globalization and populism – fiercely colliding; we saw reassuring developments on the world’s last legacy of the Cold War; we saw tragedies stemming from climate change; we saw amazing advancements in the fourth industrial revolution… Top 10 news stories of the year, looking back at the exciting and heart-wrenching moments and reckoning for the new year.
1. China Holds the World’s First Import Expo
China delivered a successful import expo in Shanghai in early November, amid an uncertain world economy overshadowed by the U.S. withdrawal from the international multilateral trading system. The five-day China International Import Expo (CIIE), which concluded with prospective deals worth 57.8 billion U.S. dollars, marked a further step on China’s path of opening up. It’s also a new public good that the rising Asian economic powerhouse is providing to the world.
2. Belt and Road Extends Even Further
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) entered its fifth year in 2018. For the past five years, China has invested 80 billion U.S. dollars in this initiative. The Second Ministerial Meeting of the Forum of China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in Santiago, Chile on January 22, generated a special statement on the BRI, symbolizing the extension of this grand initiative to Latin America. At the summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in September in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled an eight-point action plan to enhance cooperation with the far-flung continent. In November, the CIIE gathered over 3,000 foreign firms, among which more than 1,000 were from 58 countries along the Belt and Road.
A détente with Japan facilitated third-party market cooperation in countries involved in the BRI. Meanwhile, a digital Silk Road came into being, with Alibaba and other e-commerce magnates starting operations along the ancient passage. Progress in cooperating with the Greater Mekong region and several countries in the Middle East motivated us to stride further along the Belt and Road.
3. Besides Crisis-ridden Syria, Tensions Flare up in the Middle East
The Syrian war continues into its seventh year as unabated violence causes countless Syrians to suffer. Given the entanglement of foreign interventions, the situation improved little in 2018 – the government regained rebel-held regions in several major offensives, and Turkey and Russia brokered a demilitarized zone. As the conflict rages, millions of Syrians, including children, risk being killed or displaced. This year also sees mounting tensions in other countries and regions across the Middle East.
The most violent conflict between Palestine and Israel in recent years broke out, leaving nearly 3,000 people dead. The tussle between Saudi Arabia and Turkey became more sophisticated. And Qatar felt the sting of isolation given its diplomatic crisis starting from June 2017.
4. The Korean Peninsula Sees Détente Thanks to Multi-sided Efforts
The big surprise of the year was the rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula.
DPRK leader Kim Jong Un made his diplomatic debut, presenting an intelligence and confidence well beyond his years. He met Chinese President Xi Jinping three times within three months, and also met President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae-in three times. Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump even shared historic handshakes in Singapore. China’s efforts to facilitate peace between the two Koreas, Moon’s revival of the Sunshine policy and Trump’s unusual method of interaction with Pyongyang played instrumental roles in the rosy scenario. However, the story is far from over.
5. Washington’s Trade War causes Worldwide concern, but Global Players Stick Together
U.S. President Donald Trump rolled out steel and aluminum tariff hikes on March 8, followed by a dense barrage of steep tariffs on Chinese imports. An escalated trade war with China swiftly spilled over to other continents, including Europe and even Africa. The protectionist moves of Washington – the very architect of the international multilateral trading system – put the world market on a rollercoaster, and elicited a backlash from the rest of the world.
Trump seemed resolved on this path of “America First” at the expense of global prosperity until early December, when the world’s two largest economies agreed to a 90-day hiatus in proposed tariff increases on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires.
6. Mounting Tensions Between Russia and the West
The London-Moscow row over the nerve-gas poisoning attempt of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in Britain’s Salisbury resulted in more than 20 countries expelling Russian diplomats.
Also, a potential collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty has put Europe in jeopardy. U.S. President Donald Trump announced in October that America will quit the treaty the country co-signed with the former Soviet Union (now Russia) in 1987. It will take six months for the pullout to come into effect. The deal has kept nuclear missiles out of Europe over the past decades, and Trump’s declaration has put the U.S.’ NATO allies on tenterhooks. The rest of the world fears a potential nuclear arms race between military powers.
7. “Hard Brexit” on the Books After a Spate of Obstacles
As the date for the UK to exit the EU approaches, Prime Minister Theresa May is facing opposition from all sides. So far, there have been detractors in her cabinet, with the most notable being her Brexit secretary’s resignation in November. If her withdrawal deal with the EU does not gain enough support, then her country faces a “hard” exit that could see trade disrupted, borders erected, and the status of citizens working and living abroad uncertain.
8. Volatile Global Oil Prices Could Weaken The Dominance of the U.S. Dollar
This year saw volatility roil the global energy market, with oil prices continuing to drop. While energy giants such as Saudi Arabia and Russia slashed their barrel output in order to stop the hemorrhage, the U.S. inched past them to become the biggest oil producing nation. The culprit for the low prices: oversupply.
9. Extreme Weather Costs The World Dearly
Extreme weather cost the world some 100 billion U.S. dollars and thousands of lives in 2018. In August, India was hit by the worst monsoon flooding in a century, leaving over 1,400 dead and millions displaced. From Japan’s summer floods to Europe’s heatwaves, to the hurricanes sweeping across the U.S. and the Caribbean in early autumn, to the raging California wildfires, to the still unfolding drought in Australia, we witnessed the might of disasters caused or exacerbated by climate change.
While the U.S. has pulled out from the Paris climate accord, other major players remain committed to fighting climate change. At the UN’s latest climate conference in Katowice, Poland, nearly 14,000 ministers, negotiators and officials from 195 countries managed to reach consensus on general methods to implement the Paris climate pact.
10. A New Age of Intelligence Arrived With Transformative AI Development
AI has become more than just a term known to sci-fi enthusiasts. That’s because machine learning has been used in fundamentally transformative ways this year, such as spotting a criminal at a music concert in China and identifying craters on the moon. The 2018 World Artificial Intelligence Conference, with the theme of “A New Era Empowered by Artificial Intelligence,” opened in Shanghai in September.
Optimism for the field should be tempered, however, because tragedy struck in the first death from a self-driving car enabled by the tech. Though AI is becoming a buzzword in many industries, the field is still being developed, and its shortcomings need to be addressed.