We deserve a year-end break
- 24 Dec 2018 at 03:30
- WRITER: ERICH PARPART
What a year it's been, riddled with natural and manmade disasters, not to mention the antics of Donald Trump. Between his landmark summit with North Korea's leader and the lingering trade war with China, the US president's second year in office has been an eventful one for Asia.
After ignoring Asia in his first year, Mr Trump has given people on this side of the planet plenty to talk about this year. His meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore was a sight to behold, prompting several positive developments on the Korean Peninsula.
While no one is certain if the North will ever live up to its pledge of "complete denuclearisation", it did destroy one of its nuclear facilities. And continuing talks between the two Koreas have led to the first peaceful crossing of the Demilitarized Zone by soldiers from the two sides.
Critics might say that Seoul and Pyongyang have made only token progress and nuclear talks have stalled, but they cannot deny the improved relationship.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been gracious in giving Mr Trump credit for getting the Koreas talking. Should those talks lead to the ultimate end of the Korean War, there could be a Nobel Peace Prize in it for someone. I believe Mr Moon's tireless work to continue what Mr Trump started merits the highest praise.
Mr Trump has since moved on from North Korea to focus on a much bigger rival in China. Every time he tweets the word "tariffs", stock markets worldwide sink. Now economists are worried about the global economic recovery being derailed by a full-on trade war.
In the worst-case scenario, Washington has threatened to tax everything that China exports to the United States. That's about US$570 billion worth of stuff. Beijing would certainly respond in kind.
The good news is that the two sides have called a truce while they search for a resolution. But many businesses are taking no chances and are looking to set up production bases beyond China, which is good news for Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, Beijing has stepped up its charm offensive.
"China welcomes Asean countries to get on the express train of Chinese economic development and is eager to share the fruits," Vice-Premier Han Zheng declared at the 15th China-Asean Expo in September. All Asean has to do now is to beware of the debt trap this fruit basket might contain.
China and India have also been getting more friendly. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian PM Narendra Modi agreed in April to tone things down on the contested Doklam Plateau. Mr Xi later welcomed African leaders from 53 countries to Beijing and pledged $60 billion in fresh financial aid for them before jetting off to hobnob with Russian President Vladimir Putin in September.
In Russia, Mr Xi spun a vision of warm cooperation between the Russian Far East and Northeast Asia, which pleased Mr Putin who has been isolated by the West for years because of Crimea. A more confident Mr Putin is now lecturing the US and UK on respecting their voters' choices of Donald Trump and Brexit.
Geopolitical conflicts and realignments, the rise of protectionism and the far right among people who feel left behind by globalisation, and Mr Putin's recent warning about the risks of nuclear war are all cause for concern. But all these do not worry me as much as climate change.
This year we've seen natural disasters in Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines ranging from a heatwave to flooding, earthquakes, typhoons and volcanic eruptions. We are causing so much pollution that nature has been forced to engineer a major correction. If we do not do something about it now, our children and their children will suffer dire consequences.
Eating less meat, using less plastic and tuning off the lights and water before leaving the room are just a few of the things that every single one of us can do. These are little things but they represent a big shift in behaviour, as we become more aware of our actions and their results. Then maybe we can talk about recycling and renewables on a nationwide scale.
When you make your New Year resolutions, please spare a thought for the planet we are sharing; it's the only home we have. Finally, from all of us at Asia Focus, thank you for entrusting us to be one of your news sources this year and, hopefully, for many years to come.