A tumultuous year no less

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EI SUN OH

It is that time of year again when perhaps a certain degree of review of the major events that took place over the past year should be conducted, and their appropriate lessons extracted. As usual, I will not enumerate all the big happenings from around the world, but will only spell out those that made particularly heavy impressions upon me.

For me, the year started with the stark realization that Donald Trump, who was elected President of the United States the previous November, was soon to be sworn in as such. His ascendance to the American presidency, though remarkable and perhaps ground-shifting, is hardly unique.

I can at least recall reading about (not experiencing, of course) another somewhat folksy-sounding American oligarch who got himself elected President amid the harsh times of the Great Depression slightly less than a century ago. His name was Franklin Roosevelt. At once controversial with his new approaches to politics, Roosevelt unleashed the New Deal, which helped resuscitate a comatose American economy and led the free world to victory over sinister fascism in the Second World War, having been reelected for three more terms.

Less than two decades later, another dashing oligarch, who was also a Second World War veteran, became the youngest President of America. Bringing with his presidency a breath of fresh air into an otherwise stagnate American political arena, John F. Kennedy went on to face down the Soviet threat during the Cuban Missile Crisis and laid the foundation for the American space program. JFK was assassinated at the prime of his political career.


So I don’t want to pre-judge Trump’s performance as a President. In the past year, there have been ups and downs in his political fortune. While the Trump-instigated US withdrawal from both the free-trade-plus Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and the Paris climate change accord, both previously heavily championed by the Obama administration, had met with little effective domestic resistance, Trump’s executive orders banning the entrance to US of nationals from a few (initially predominantly Muslim) countries were variously blocked, albeit temporarily, by the US courts, testifying once again to the robustness of the check and balance system in American politics. Trump’s legislative attempt to dismantle the much maligned Obamacare was defeated by a single senator from his supposedly own party. But he was handed perhaps a perfect Christmas gift when the US Congress finally passed a massive tax reform bill that cut corporate tax by nearly half.

North Korean affairs
The beginning of the year also witnessed the blatant disregard of one pariah state against the sovereignty of another state. Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of North Korea’s former leader Kim Jong Il, was assassinated in broad daylight in a Kuala Lumpur airport, in what could only be an elaborate scheme undertaken by his country of origin, whatever passport of convenience he might have been literally holding in his hand at the time of his gruesome death. In the ensuing diplomatic standoff, North Korea resorted to holding Malaysian diplomats and residents hostage, in flagrant defiance of international laws and norms.

Though the internationally shocking matter somewhat subsided, North Korea did not deign to improve its already shattered international image, but chose to plough straight ahead in its numerous escalating nuclear and missile tests. The United Nations imposed sanctions on the reclusive state, and even harsh dissuasions from its few erstwhile allies did not seem to have an appreciable effect on the will of the North Korean leadership to acquire nuclear-weapon capability at any and all costs.

As I write these words, however, I do so with trepidations, for I know not how far and deep the long arms of North Korean retribution at any perceived slights could reach any corner of the world.

European politics
And this is the year of political upsets. In France, a junior minister quit his government and party posts and formed his own hastily cobbled-together coalition to win first the presidency (and become the youngest French President in history) and then the national assembly. In Britain, Theresa May gambled with a bigger majority in Parliament to boost her Brexit negotiation stance with the European Union, but instead, lost even a simple majority and now has to rely on a coalition with a minor party to stay in power. Angela Merkel is facing a similar but much elongated challenge to form a coalition government in Germany after electoral upsets in the latest election.

Terrorist attacks
And of course, the ubiquitous terrorist attacks around the world did not abate at all but instead, intensified throughout this year with almost weekly, if not even shorter, reports of mostly lower-intensity but no less lethal assaults making the deadlines. The Filipino authority and armed forces should be commended for taking a firm stance in engaging head-on the extremist militants in Marawi and successfully eliminating them. Terrorists must not be allowed to establish a stronghold here in the heart of Southeast Asia, for it threatens the peace and prosperity not only of the Philippines but, indeed, all neighboring countries.

As we welcome yet another new year, we should continue to be vigilant against nefarious elements and constantly innovate to improve our economic well-being.

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