See More on Facebook

Analysis, Current affairs

Seat belt warning as storm clouds loom in 2019

A look at potential headlines in 2019 by the Straits Times’ Warren Fernandez.


Written by

Updated: January 7, 2019

You have been here before. As you settle into your comfortable seat for the long flight ahead, a voice crackles from the cockpit. “Our flying time today will be 12 hours, 40 minutes, and we expect a smooth journey ahead, but there looks to be some pockets of turbulence along the way,” your captain says, sounding vaguely assuring. “We suggest you keep your seat-belt on.”

So was said on my recent Singapore Airlines flight home from holidaying abroad. It prompted several hours of meandering musings from 30,000 feet in the air about what lies ahead in the New Year. Some of the storm clouds that appear to loom on the political horizon include:

1. US-China: rivalries among frenemies
Three recent developments sum up the precarious state of relations between the world’s two main powers, now on a tentative 90-day hiatus while officials struggle to dial down simmering trade tensions.
First, Apple’s profits warning – its first since 2002 – sent global markets into a tailspin when they re-opened for trading at the start of the year, on concerns about the slowing demand in China and widening impact of the on-going Sino-US trade spat. Jittery investors regained their composure somewhat on Friday, while some continued to fret about the less than ominous beginnings.

On Thursday, China’s dramatic landing of a lunar probe on the far side of the moon signalled the country’s growing technological and economic prowess. Inevitably, this forced the world’s scientists, policy makers and commentators to shake off any holiday-induced stupor they might have been languishing under.

Such concerns about China were reflected starkly in the remarks by the new Acting  US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who stepped up to replace his predecessor James Mattis, who resigned over policy differences with President Donald Trump .

In one of his first statements since taking on the job, he told civilian leaders of the US military, that for all the other strategic challenges around the world, their top priority was to focus on “China, China, China”.

This made plain that the shift to a mode of “strategic competition” with China first mentioned in a US defence position paper last January is very much part of a nascent Washington consensus.

The latest issue of Foreign Affairs reflects this,with its cover story headlined, Who will run the world? In the lead essay, the US-based publication’s editor Gideon Rose laments  how much the Trump administration’s view of the world is at odds with the liberal global order that American leaders have sought to foster for decades.
“Trumpianism is about winning, which is something you do to others. The (liberal world) order requires leading, which is something you do with others,” he notes.

In any case, those who dismiss the sunny internationalist outlook as a “fairy tale”, believe “its day is done”, he adds.

“Americans don’t want it. The world does not want it. US power is declining; China’s is rising. A return to great -power conflict is inevitable; the only question is how far things will go.”
Just how far things go in the months to come matters greatly to many countries, not least Singapore, which have thrived on the open, rules-based international trading order, and are loath to see the rise of a new great power rivalry that will force an awkward “with-me-or-against-me’ taking of sides.

Some are now saying that a new Cold War, between the US and China, is likely if not inevitable. Yet, most commentators agree that this is a blind alley no one wants to go down, so the question that arises is whether leaders – and their voters – will have the wisdom to avoid doing so.

Perhaps the wise words of US President Franklin Roosevelt, who helped shaped the post World War II global order, as quoted by Rose in his essay, might help focus minds.
“We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away. We have learned that we must live as men, not ostriches, nor as dogs in a manger. We have learnt to be citizens of the world, members of the world community. We have learned the simple truth, as Emerson said, that “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

2. Malaysia-Singapore: have we not learnt?
Those words ring true on matters closer to home, where several bilateral issues flared up from out of the blue in the dying days of last year.

Disputes over airspace and maritime boundaries, food supplies and water prices, and talk of crooked bridges, have a deja-vu, “oh-so-yesterday” ring about them. Sadly, they smack of zero-sum thinking, and of a desire to be “winning, rather than leading” the way forward to better lives for the peoples of both countries.

3. 4G leaders: the end of the beginning
Significantly, these bilateral tensions come at a time of political transition on both sides of the Causeway.  Inevitably, Malaysia’s new-old Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will have to make way for a successor at some point, although to whom, or how this might unfold, remains a little hazy.

The new leader will need to establish himself, domestically and internationally, hopefully without being saddled with  bitter disputes that belong in the past. In Singapore, while the speculation that raged for most of last year on the likely successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has finally ended, the handover process to the country’s 4G, or next generation of leaders, remains a work in progress, with the critical endorsement of the electorate having to be sought, quite likely later this year.

PM Lee spelt out the challenge for all concerned in plain terms in his New Year’s message: “Our model of governance is quite exceptional, and has served us well. It has enabled Singapore to make the most of what we have and stand out in a highly competitive world.

“Singapore politics cannot afford to be riven and destabilised by the rivalries, contestations and factions so often seen elsewhere. Instead, Singaporeans must stay united, and work together resolutely, to strengthen and renew our social compact.”

4. Brexit: flattering allusions or delusions?
Even as the clock ticks down to March 29, when the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union, its Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt – touted  as a man who might  replace PM Theresa May – was in Singapore, drawing parallels with how Britain might “plug into the international economic grid”, just as Singapore had done, and thrived, contrary to what many predicted in the 1960s.

While the remarks might be flattering, few Singaporeans would  crave them, given that the economic  implications of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal on how best to do so are grave. That would leave the UK adrift, and at odds with itself, at a time when the world could do with some phlegmatic British sense and sensibility.

5. Elections and events: expect the unexpected 
All of the above will play out against the backdrop of major elections around the world, from Indonesia to India, Australia to Argentina. These, and other events, will throw up their share of surprises. Politicians focused on the short-term need to secure their own futures will be less inclined to take the long-term measures needed to grapple with the technological disruptions shaking industries and societies everywhere.

So, fasten your seat belts, everyone, as the turbulence ahead looks likely to make for a bit of a bumpy ride.  At tricky and testing times such as these, my mind drifts inexorably to words consigned to heart a long time ago, for solace and sustenance. So, along with my best wishes for the New Year, I offer you these lines from British poet Alfred Tennyson’s Ulysses:

‘Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

 

Warren Fernandez is the Editor in Chief of the Straits Times. 

 



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


About the Author: The Straits Times is Singapore's top-selling newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Analysis, Current affairs

Japan Olympic chief denies corruption allegations

The president of the Japanese IOC says there is nothing to worry about. Tsunekazu Takeda, president of the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), on Tuesday rejected allegations of corruption related to Tokyo’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, telling a Tokyo press conference, “There’s nothing to be suspicious of.” Takeda, 71, made the remark after French judicial authorities launched a full-scale investigation into suspicions that Takeda, who was then head of the bid committee, was involved in the corruption. The JOC told the media before the press conference that it would not hold a question-and-answer session, on the grounds that the French investigation was ongoing. Takeda read out a prepared statement instead. According to French media, the focus of prosecutors’ investigation is whether a total of about ¥230 million (


By The Japan News
January 16, 2019

Analysis, Current affairs

China accuses Canada of double standard

Beijing slams Justin Trudeau’s criticism of drug smuggler’s death sentence. China on Tuesday expressed strong dissatisfaction at the Canadian prime minister’s criticism of a drug smuggler’s death sentence, urging the country to respect China’s judicial sovereignty and stop making irresponsible remarks. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing that drug crimes are recognized worldwide as serious crimes and are extremely harmful to the society. She said all countries severely crack down on the issue and so does China. Remarks made by a “relevant Canadian person” lack the spirit of rule by law, she said, urging the Canadian side to correct the mistakes and stop making irresponsible remarks. Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, a Canadian national convicted of smuggling over 222 kilograms of methamphetamines, was sentenced to death on Monday at


By China Daily
January 16, 2019

Analysis, Current affairs

Rohingya issue will not be solved easily

Bangladeshi foreign minister says the road to a solution will be long and paved with difficulty. The much-talked-about Rohingya issue will not be solved easily, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said on Monday. “I have directed to conduct a study on the Rohingyas which will try to find out the impacts of Rohingyas on our country’s social, economic and security system,” said the minister while talking to the journalists at his office in Dhaka. Urging the international community to step forward for a logical solution to the crisis, he said, “The international community has also responsibilities to solve the crisis. If Rohingya crisis is continued, interest of everybody including India and China will be hampered.” India and Russia are much positive over the Rohingya issue right now, the minister informed. About the resistance from several countries including China over the issue, he s


By Daily Star
January 15, 2019

Analysis, Current affairs

Lion Air JT610 cockpit voice recorder found

Investigators hope that the discovery will shed new light on the deadly crash. The National Transportation Safety Committee announced on Monday that the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) from last year’s Lion Air crash had been found. First Fleet Navy Information Agency head Arba Agung told The Jakarta Post that an agency team was being sent to retrieve the CVR from the location where it was found. The team will first clear the mud around the CVR before it can retrieve it. The committee said in a statement that the CVR had stopped transmitting a location signal as the battery would have lasted only 73 days after the Oct. 29 crash. Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Luhut  Pandjaitan also confirmed the finding. “It’s very good progress. I think the information in the box might make things clear,” Luhut said. The Lion Air plane, which cr


By The Jakarta Post
January 15, 2019

Analysis, Current affairs

What does Vietnam’s new cyber law mean for online dissent?

Will Facebook kowtow to the Vietnamese government to keep its market share. Facebook is in violation of a Vietnamese new cybersecurity law by allowing its users to post content critical of the communist government on its platform, the Ministry of Information and Communication announced on Wednesday of last week. The news came just days after the law went into effect on Jan. 1. The new legislation requires internet companies to comply with government demands to remove user-posted material it doesn’t like. The law also stipulates that information technology companies—Facebook and Google for instance—may be required to set up local offices and store customer data domestically, a feature which human rights advocates worry might make it easier for the government to track and charge dissidents for their online activities. This new legislation follows a pattern of increasing digital scrutiny by th


By Quinn Libson
January 15, 2019

Analysis, Current affairs

Reuters journalists to remain in jail

Myanmar court rejects appeal against 7-yr sentences; ruling decried as another injustice. This Reuters report originally appeared in the Daily Star.  A Myanmar court yesterday rejected the appeal of two Reuters reporters sentenced to seven years in jail on charges of breaking the Official Secrets Act, saying the defence had not provided sufficient evidence to show they were innocent. Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were convicted by a lower court in September in a landmark case that has raised questions about Myanmar’s progress towards democracy and sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates. “It was a suitable punishment,” said High Court Judge Aung Naing, referring to the seven-year prison term meted out by the lower court. The defence has the option of making a further appeal to the country’s supreme co


By Daily Star
January 14, 2019