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2018 – Year In Review

Another year passed. And along, with it, another set of memories – good, bad and ugly. Here are ten events that had, in my opinion, the most widespread repercussions globally.
Trump’s amazing ability to dominate world headlines continues

No review covering the world’s major news items can ignore Donald Trump and the seemingly endless news fodder he provides. Depending on who you ask and their affiliation, the reactions range from being understanding and fiercely supportive to puzzled and cringe-worthy. He lost many of his key cabinet and administrative heads including Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, Attorney General, Chief of Staff, etc. The noose has been tightening on the personal front with his lawyer convicted and several Russia-related dealings coming too close to his inner circle of family and friends.

Global trade partnerships got shaken quite a bit

2018 saw NAFTA die and being born again as USMCA.
When Trump became president, he walked away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that was supposedly one of the most extensive trade agreements to come up in a while. His “America First” policy took on the well-established North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and pushed hard against Canada and Mexico to offer more concessions and create manufacturing jobs in the US. This year saw everything – from steel imports on Canada and name calling aimed at Mexico. Mexico acquiesced first, and the US signed an agreement with it forcing Canada’s hand. Eventually, the three countries came together.
Meanwhile, the world’s most significant bilateral trade agreement was signed between the EU and Japan – covering a third of the world’s GDP. Under the deal, Japan will remove 99 per cent of the tariffs it applies to EU exports – a value of nearly $1.2 billion. It also offers new concessions-from EU export of agricultural and food products and allows EU companies to operate in and bid for Japanese service contracts – all the while protecting EU intellectual
property rights.

India – shining in some areas and losing lustre in others

Both GST and demonetisation were to provide 2018 with the reaping of what had been sowed. On the positive side, India was the fas test growing economy in the world. Lots of fantastic work was done in infrastructure – new ports, navigable waterways, increased road development and improvements in the rail and aviation segments. Start-ups like Ola, PayTM and Swiggy fared well and are expanding globally. India declared its intent to be a more responsible player to address climate change.
But it wasn’t entirely bright. The slowdown in revenues, the rupee depreciation and the increase in oil prices led to much larger deficits. This caused a public disagreement between the government and the RBI and led to the resignation of Governor Urjit Patel. To cap it, the loss suffered by BJP in some of its traditional strongholds adds to the concern around reforms. Purely short-term and election-focused decisions don’t augur well for necessary, long-term growth.

The murder that rattled friendships, politics and economics

The world has become desensitised in many respects. Social media has stressed more on the ‘media’ aspects than truly being ‘social.’ We have learned to be immune of deaths and injustice – from gun shootings to wars that starve and kill millions. In summary, we seem to be among an ocean of information but drowning in ignorance.
All that changed in October when Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi-born journalist for the Washington Post, went to a consulate in Turkey. He was once very close to the Saudi royalfamily but later became one of is harshest critics. Khashoggi walked into the consulate to complete some paperwork to get married to his Turkish fiancé. He never came out alive again.
Then the stories began to emerge. Turkey accused Saudi Arabia of murdering Jamal and claimed to have video proof that the crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) was involved. Saudi denied this but had to change the story so many times. Political leaders have publicly called him out. Businessmen have boycotted investments, stopped lending their names to projects and scaling back on their engagement. The initial views of MBS as a reformer (he said women could drive and opened cinema theatres again), quickly disappeared.

Brexit and the sad exit story

It was the survey that everyone thinks the UK should have never carried out. Over 30 months ago, that country’s residents voted on whether they should stay as part of the European Union (EU) or not. Due to a combination of voter apathy and misinformed expectations, the citizens voted to leave, and “Brexit” became part of the lexicon. Since then, there has been a never-ending drama on how to go about this. The failed negotiations, political ineptitude, bureaucratic procedures and lack of a cohesive message around clear benefits have made this a nightmare.
The fact that Britain needs to leave the EU in less than 100 days is not helping at all. If there is no consensus-driven exit strategy between the UK and the EU, there is a “no-deal Brexit” that strips the UK of all the EU benefits without any of the negotiated aspects of the break. Every attempt by Prime Minister Theresa May has not worked and, in many cases, added to the concern.

Russia – definitely weaker, but still strong enough?

In 2018, Russia was in the news more for all the wrong reasons. It started well for President Vladimir Putin, who was elected to his fourth term with more than 75 per cent of the votes. There was also the rare reason for Russians to celebrate when the World Cup for soccer was held there. It showcased happy people, a pretty good national soccer team and a media-aware, friendly police for the world to see.
Not much else went well. Russia’s currency plunged due to the US sanctions, falling oil prices, and the weak economic forecast. It is now at parity with the Indian rupee – 1 rouble is around 1.2 rupees. This has caused severe internal hardships. Brand Russia dipped further on the news about the mercenary-style attacks on many of its dissenters – the most notorious being the one on Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia. They survived; many others didn’t.

Kim Jong Un and North Korea blast off some diplomatic skills

It started with name-calling before somehow they started calling each other by their names. From using words like ‘Dotard’ to boasting about the size of ‘nuclear buttons,’ there was a sense of strange humour around the topic of nuclear weapons. 2018 saw Kim Jong Un starting to showcase a kind of diplomatic overture – meeting with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In and Chinese President Xi Jinping multiple times. The crowning glory came when he met with US President Donald Trump in Singapore for a historic summit that made for excellent optics and started essential dialogues. Both leveraged the summit in different ways. Kim highlighted the legitimacy the summit brought to his leadership and softening the international sanctions. Ultimately, the biggest beneficiaries will be the people in the two Koreas.

The Iran deal fizzled out – and global leaders aren’t aligned at all.

In 2015, when North Korea didn’t crave world attention by testing missiles and nuclear bombs, a significant agreement was reached with Iran to address the nuclearisation threat. For long, Iran had claimed that its domestic atomic programme was peaceful, but no one was buying it.
That changed in 2015 when it agreed with member nuclear nations – US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – to limit its nuclear activities reducing its stockpile by 98 per cent and allow for international inspectors to check its facilities in exchange for the world to remove economic sanctions. It was the most significant non-proliferation agreement in quite some time.
Sadly, the deal ran into rough waters in 2018. The United States backed out of the agreement and reinstated the sanctions . While everyone else is still behind the agreement, the US position has made it difficult for the deal to survive.

The weather Gods continued to wreak havoc

Global weather-related craziness continued to dominate news columns in several parts of the world. More locally, the usual torrential rains caused massive floods and landslides in Kerala making it the worst in over a century. Death estimates ranged from 500+ to well above that number, and the floods directly impacted almost a sixth of the state’s entire population.
In Indonesia, a huge earthquake and a massive tsunami that followed killed more than 2000 people in September 2018. It was the deadliest earthquake worldwide in the year. Sadly, the country saw another tsunami in end December that has killed more than 300 people already. In the US, the most significant weather story came from California – where wildfires in July/August got the dry season fires started and, in November, additional large ones killed almost 90 people and destroyed more than 20,000 homes.

The year of the Winter Olympics, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games?

It was only the third time that there was ever a winter Olympics in Asia. 2018 saw South Korea hosting the games that brought together almost 3000 athletes from more than 90 countries. Given all the rhetoric throughout the year with Kim Jong Un and North Korea, there were a lot of security concerns leading up to the games. There were even worries about North Korean athletes participating and representing the Koreas in some sports as a unified team. The Norway dominance continued, and the country had the most medals and tied with Germany for Gold. The games also worked well for South Korea – which won the most medals ever – 17 overall and 5 gold. The year also saw the Commonwealth Games in Australia and India had a much better shot at winning medals here. It came 3rd overall – with 66 medals, of which 26 were gold. The Asian Games in Jakarta saw some unprecedented successes – where an Indian won a heptathlon gold for the first time – and medals in shooting, running and javelin. Given the over-coverage of cricket, we skipped that one!

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