2014: year in review (by countries, part 3)

2014

 

This is the last article from the series reviewing events that have taken place across different countries this year. Now the last day in 2014, my only expectation towards 2015 is a better year ahead, albeit some difficulties, and some challenges, accumulated from past mistakes, will continue to befall us.

As I forgot to include Hong Kong and Mexico in the first two parts, I’ll just put them here.

 

Hong Kong – if this semi-autonomous region of 7.2 million people used to be known rather for dim sum, skyscrapers, action films, and Jackie Chan, now Hong Kong filled international headlines in 2014 with ‘protests’ being the most popular keyword. Triggered largely in part due to the latest decision by China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee in having to screen out candidates in the upcoming 2017 Chief Executive election, which would be the first direct election in Hong Kong, this marked what had been more than two decades of impatience Hong Kong public has been faced in gaining universal suffrage. While the city has achieved monumental economic success since 1970s, the most crucial issues that have never been addressed are the worsening social inequality (Hong Kong is ranked the worst among developed regions’ Gini index, now reaching a staggering level of almost 0.56), astronomical home prices which most people can hardly afford, increasing living costs with low social safety nets, as well as erosion of freedom of expression, by which Hong Kong’s rank, according to Freedom House, has fallen drastically from among the top 15 in 2004 to now 61 a decade after.

But Hong Kong also inspired the world what ‘civil disobedience’ truly meant. Despite several scuffles (mostly infiltrated by certain elements), no buildings were damaged (except the Legislative Councils headquarters’ front window), no cars were burned, and life goes on fairly normal on most parts of the city. People helped each other, students continued to do their homework and studied at night, some set up medical clinics, and others even assisted in trash collection and recycling activities. There is hardly any place doing a civilized protest as Hong Kong has shown.

Mexico – this country of 115 million has long been faced with a massive drug war, having seen more than 100,000 people killed by both security forces and similarly heavily-armed drug cartels, but the forced disappearances of 43 university students, and their subsequent killings, marks the climax of this war, with millions of civilians coming out to the streets to protest both the government and drug lords, who have remained somewhat hypocritical and vicious in this matter. The murder started with student protests in Iguala, by which local police responded with mass suppression, and the subsequent kidnapping of 43 students. Nonetheless, having handed them down to drug lords instead to prosecutor’s office, and having these people brutally murdered, mutilated, and their body remains completely burned, this became what triggered the people to really show their anger. Such tragedy deals another further blow to the country’s current president, Enrique Pena Nieto, who has long been criticized for being hypocritical and not doing enough to solve many of Mexico’s crucial issues.

Pakistan – three gargantuan events have shaken this country throughout the year. Firstly, there’s this mass protest known as Azadi March, by which millions of people again went to the streets to demand an end to the country’s first democratically-elected government, led by Nawaz Sharif. Nonetheless, there remained suspicions that these protests were actually organized by certain elements with close ties to intelligence and military forces, notoriously known to have been partially infiltrated by several Taliban movements. The military itself had previously been in charge of the country’s leadership for decades, the climax of which was the ascendancy of Pervez Musharraf into the power, ending in 2008 after mass protests led by civilians. This march, for the first time, becomes a major test to Sharif’s government to which extent he could balance fragile relations between the authority, critically needing the support of security forces, and the military themselves.

Another one was Nobel Peace Prize jointly awarded to both Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, both hailing from cognate countries long involved in decades-old conflicts over numerous issues: Pakistan and India. Both of them were actively involved in advocacy towards children’s rights and education, and had faced formidable obstacles in their respective home countries. No matter how often the two nations clash, it was hoped the shared visions of Malala and Kailash could inspire both people to appreciate each other much better.

But the last one remains what becomes the most tragic closing event for the country’s 2014. Taliban, known for always targeting military forces and intelligence services, this time targeted a school attended by innocent kids. More than 150 people, mostly students, were brutally murdered by the ambush led by Taliban forces in Peshawar, leading to huge civilian protests, and a harsh crackdown by Pakistani government into the militants. While it is deplorable to see how US drones continuously invade civilian places – further encouraging Taliban to conduct more attacks, robbing the lives of innocent kids, dreaming hard of a better future, is another useless eye for an eye.

Qatar – other than Al Jazeera as its global media outlet, the country has faced another international scrutiny in regard to alleged abuse of migrant workers in this oil-and-gas-rich tiny Gulf state. With population of migrant workers 1.7 million strong, or 75% of its whole population, how the country handles these people remains a question, especially as Qatar has been selected for 2022 World Cup, with a fantastically planned expenditure of 220 billion US$. It is estimated that among 1.7 million foreign workers residing in this country, majority of them do not have enough social protection from the respective government. What those people will experience in the years to come until 2022 remains a huge stake for Qatar’s credibility, nonetheless.

Russia – first, the world was surprised by how ‘unusual’ Winter Olympics had been, as shown by how the 50-billion-dollar project in Sochi turned into a completely gargantuan white elephant. Many stadiums ended up in decrepitude, hotels were largely unfurnished, and the city turned up pretty merely throughout the Olympics’ season, only to subsequently end up neglected much of the time afterwards.

After Sochi, Kremlin once again shook the world with its subsequent annexation of Crimea Peninsula in Ukraine, a Russian-dominant territory Soviet Union once awarded to the latter back in 1950s. As though not done with Crimea, Moscow continued to silently support pro-Russian separatists in East Ukraine, particularly in Donetsk, once one of the country’s most important industrial cities, now turning into a war zone. More than 4,000 people had been killed in the conflict lasting more than 9 months, and it is not expected the conflict will end anytime soon.

Sanctions and a drastic drop in oil prices themselves, again, give this country a hard slap. Ruble values have sharply declined by more than 70%, the worst performing this year, excluding the estimated capital flight at more than 130 billion US$ this year. Foreign exchange reserves, meanwhile, have evaporated almost 50%, leaving the country with less than 200 billion US$ to anticipate the crisis. Worst, Russia’s oil revenues will drop between 90 and 140 billion US$ this year, making 2014 the worst year for this country of 142 million after 1998.

Next year, former Soviet states like Estonia and Kazakhstan will have to be very careful of their giant neighbor.

South Korea – the sinking of MV Sewol became an international spotlight. Over 300 high school students out of 460 people on board a passenger ship heading to Jeju Island were killed as the ship perished at sea, and the reason was what gave the public enough outrage to be expressed at the national government, currently led by President Park Geun-hye: the ship itself has exceeded its sailing age, and there is certain extent of negligence by ship crew when the accident happened. This accident prompted a suicide case by the students’ vice principal, resignation by prime minister, and the subsequent disbandment of the country’s transport safety commission. Also, what was highlighted here is the continued issue of corruption, as well as collusion of power between government and major corporations controlling a large share of the country’s economy.

Another controversial issue is the widespread violence experienced by many servicemen during military service, as recently illustrated by the mass shooting in a military base by one of them.

Sudan / South Sudan – the world’s newest sovereign state faces a devastating civil conflict that had killed thousands of people since last year, driven largely in part by former vice president Riek Machar’s rebellion attempt against the government currently led by Salva Kiir. Millions of people were internally displaced, and governmental functions were mostly paralyzed. Nonetheless, despite infrequent coverage of these two countries, they remain widely discussed within international relations discourse given the influence of the soon-to-be superpower: China. Having staked out many oil and gas possessions in both countries, it is highly important for Beijing to create an uneasy counterpoise and political compromise between them, while also ensuring internal security in South Sudan to not interfere with their extraction activities. This country, in many geopolitical estimates, will become a ‘knot’ in determining of how Chinese foreign policy will transform in the years to come.

Syria – the country’s civil war, which has killed over 200,000 people within 3 years, doesn’t show any signs of abating. The nation remains largely divided, with Bashar al-Assad’s government still having a stronghold in the largely Southern part, while much of the North has fallen to both various rebel groups (often clashing against each other and against the government) and ISIS. Thousands of civilians, former government troops, and various tribal fighters have fallen victim to the savagery displayed by the Islamic State, and with the reluctance of both Assad’s government and rebelling coalitions to dialogue, despite an attempted peace talk brokered by Russia, it is expected that the country’s civil war will not subside anytime soon, even in two or three years to come.

Taiwan – 2014 was particularly not a really good year for this island country. In March, most of the central government was paralyzed by the largest mass protest ever organized since the 1990 democratization, with hundred thousands of students occupying Legislative Yuan’s headquarters in Taipei for nearly one month. This protest was largely triggered by China-Taiwan trade agreements, which many feared would give Beijing a stronger economic leverage towards the country’s survival. With bilateral trade between both countries surpassing 170 billion US$, or 30% of Taiwan’s overall annual volume, and Taiwan’s largest corporations benefiting the most, much of the public is concerned how this free trade policy will determine the country’s long-term existence.

Two more disasters befell Taiwan, with a plane crash in Penghu Islands, and a massive gas pipe explosion in Kaohsiung, devastating several parts and many buildings across the city. Ma Ying-jeou’s administration faced another major blow with the ruling party Kuomintang’s massive defeat in this year’s municipal elections, driven largely in part by public’s increasing dissatisfaction towards the government.

By 2016, with a presidential election already scheduled, this is going to determine the future direction Taiwan will go towards.

Thailand – for the umpteenth time (after nearly 20 times of coup d’etat since early 1930s), Thailand effectively becomes a military junta again, a consequence of lengthy political fights between kingdom-supported military, urban middle-class, and farmers plus rural villagers, who mostly support Thaksin Shinawatra and his associates. To make a long story short, the military junta will not end anytime soon, unless steps have been taken to reconcile both the royalists and the villagers (which so far hasn’t seen any concrete results).

Turkey – When Russia has Putin, Turkey has Erdogan. The mass protests originating from Istanbul’s Taksim Square, which later spread into the entire country last year, failed to overthrow Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government; instead, it gave him further legitimacy to alter the current state of Turkey. Beforehand a three-term prime minister, previously hailed for his successful economic transformation of this country of 70 million, Erdogan has been increasingly faced with scandals involving his inner circles, and his increasingly conservative, and oftentimes iconoclastic, views about Islam and the world. This year, Erdogan is sworn in as the country’s president, eliminating the position of ‘prime minister’. Now being head of state and head of government, with numerous cash-draining, oftentimes ‘white elephant’ projects across the country (including a brand-new one-billion-dollar presidential palace in Ankara), the leader is getting more unpopular across much of the country’s youth.

Ukraine – situated in between European Union and Russia, Ukraine remains in difficult position. Much of the nation was fractured with mass protests taking place from November 2013, which ended with a street battle in February this year. While much of the country demand a complete integration with EU, many important elements within the country also want closer ties with Russia, enticed by Soviet-era stability. The protests, later known as Euromaidan, ended up with a bloodshed killing more than 100 people, and the subsequent escape of Viktor Yanukovich, the country’s deposed pro-Russia president.

Nonetheless, the protests ended up exacerbating the current situation in Ukraine, with many of the pro-Russian civilians taking up weapons and declaring their own republics across much of the Eastern part. The country itself was also faced with another threat on its Western part: Moldova, its neighboring state, served as a Moscow-supported bulwark against Kiev. Crimea and Donetsk has been taken, much of the country remains under war, and worse still, an airliner was bombed.

The current government led by Petro Poroshenko (known as the Ukraine’s Chocolate King) has also been faced with internal infighting within the parliament, giving this conflict an uncertainty when it will end.

United Kingdom –  It’s good that Scotland didn’t split up from the country; otherwise UK would have to rename itself, change its flag, and worse, other constituent countries like Wales and Northern Ireland will possibly follow the same way had Scotland chosen to declare independence.

United States – the world’s largest superpower faces its own largest racial tensions since 1960s, with the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, prompting large-scale protests nationwide, and subsequent acts of rioting and looting in several towns across the States. A few other African-Americans were also shot down by police, but this also fuels debates whether the police are getting increasingly militarized, or the Blacks are really trying to attack them.

The Republicans’ success in taking control of US Senate gives another blow for Obama’s administration, especially after the last year’s government shutdown in regard to endless debates about Obamacare and other proposed policies that didn’t get passed. With two years left for President Obama, there won’t be much left for him to accomplish given the latter’s strong control of the Senate.

Nonetheless, there’s good news aside: economic recovery has shown its outcome, now at a level of 4%, the highest since Clinton’s era. With Europe still at its teeters, China facing a gradual slowdown, and Japan entering recession, US is now driving the world’s economic growth again for the first time (albeit not so in long term, as long as economic reforms are not activated).

Venezuela – with Hugo Chavez passing away, people once put another populist hope on his former vice president, Nicolas Maduro. It turned out to be wrong: economy remains at a dismal level, and with oil prices further dropping, revenues are increasingly small. Despite Venezuela’s status as currently the world’s largest holder of oil reserves, much of the population remains chronically poor, crime rate remains among the world’s highest (nearly similar to that of war-ravaged nations), and state-organized violence remains dominant in suppressing freedom of expression. Worse, with Maduro’s limited capability in handling the country’s issues, all these invoked massive anger from much of the populace. The country experienced mass protests when hundred thousands of people went to the streets, demanding his resignation.

More than 40 people were shot to death, including former pageants (pageants are the most popular figures in Venezuela, sometimes comparable to government leaders), and Maduro remains in power.

 

 

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Starting from next year, 2015, I will not frequently update this blog anymore, given that there are several things I have had commitment to do so, but this doesn’t spell an end to it (even though there were quite some moments I was considering to simply terminate this blog). It’s just that there are some adjustments I have to do with my schedule, so I hope you, readers, can understand that. I wish you all the best luck ahead, and I’ll see you in 2015.

2014: year in review (by countries, part 2)

2014

 

This is the continuation of previous post I published yesterday. Here are a few more countries under the spotlight this year:

 

Iraq – this country has long been notoriously associated with sectarian strife, the failed US invasions, and right now, a seemingly new synonym is ironically added into once was an influential power in Middle East a millennium ago: ISIS. Since its advent in the middle of this year, this organization, led by a former CIA informant (ha!), has committed numerous atrocities against religious and ethnic minorities across much of the country, most notably Christians and Yazidis. Excluding their poor public-relations exercise by means of decapitation, which, as horrendous as it seems, still continues to entice thousands of foreigners across the whole world to join this movement.

With the Iraqi Army still in partial disarray due to internal conflicts, who else remains in charge of limiting ISIS’s movements? Big kudos to Peshmerga, the army for Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region in northern Iraq. While the Army’s offensive has been largely limited (and some even escape), the Peshmerga fighters remain fiercely committed to defending their region, and more generally, the country as a whole, despite the frequent fracas between Baghdad and Erbil (capital of Iraqi Kurdistan) in regard to oil production sharing contracts.

Iran – it has been an uneasy year for President Hassan Rouhani, as nuclear deals with Western countries remain largely in limbo. But one piece of slightly good news abounds: Iran has, for the first time since Ahmadinejad era, achieved positive economic growth, albeit small compared to most emerging markets. With GDP growth estimated at 2%, no matter how small it is, Iran is expected to move slowly into better direction in the years to come.

The big concern that matters, as of my opinion, is the limited freedom of expression that prevails.

Israel / Palestine – “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Gandhi’s quote resonates very obviously in terms of how these two countries relate to each other. A few Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered, followed by a retaliation by which a Palestinian child was done so in similar manner. And huge conflicts, due in part to deep scars that remain in both governments, reverberated again, as history has taught. More than 2,000 Palestinian civilians were killed during an offensive by Israeli military in August this year. But is Israel the sole culprit in this conflict? What about Hamas, notoriously known for exploiting civilian places like schools and hospitals to launch unending attacks to Israel? With now Israel dominated by hard-line Zionists, and Palestine partially under control of hard-line leaders as well, the doors towards negotiation and dialogues will not be achievable in the near future.

A piece of good news that remains largely overlooked in this conflict zone: start-ups, mostly in software development and creative products, in both countries are flourishing, and more European countries are recognizing Palestine as a sovereign state.

Japan – Shinzo Abe was reelected as Prime Minister of Japan in a somewhat risky bet he placed in this year’s general election, as his Abenomics was showing failure. In short term, his quantitative easing policy has pumped over trillions of dollars into the market, therefore stimulating exports growth, abundant cash, as well as inflation, the word first time appearing in the news after more than 20 years experiencing continuous periods of deflation. Nonetheless, with Abe’s introduction of consumption tax at 8%, this deals a catastrophic blow for his ambitious initiative intended to revive Japanese economic miracle. With GDP contracting this quarter, the country unofficially enters its recession again. Even his ‘Womenomics’ program, aimed to increase female participation in leadership seats across Japan’s corporations and organizations into 30%, will be hardly achievable in this decade.

In 2015, challenges will not be even easier for Abe, as a whole range of issues will soon face his administration. Revision of US-drafted post-war constitution has attracted massive opposition from largely Japanese public, still traumatized by the deadly repercussions of World War II, even though Japan will never become a militarist power again, given the country’s increasing demographic pressure. His plans to restart nuclear power plants, ratify the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), pass national secrecy laws, and handle Japan’s fragile relations with China similarly encounter big resistance from much of the Japanese population as well. 2014-2018 will not be a smooth path for Abe, were he to continue his tenure.

Libya – the country remains largely fractured three years after Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown and brutally murdered by opposition forces in a NATO-led civil war that destroyed Libya in 2011. Some militants have previously formed their own ‘governorate’ in the country’s eastern part, only to face another armed resistance from other fighters, while several ISIS sympathizers have begun to infiltrate the country’s security. Even with Libya’s riches stored abroad (the country’s sovereign wealth fund reaches a staggering amount of 120 billion US$, but mostly in bank accounts in Switzerland, notorious for their secrecy laws), the money can hardly be used for Libyan public, given that much of the money remains under control of Qaddafi’s relatives, many of whom had escaped abroad (except for his son, Saif al-Islam, who may possibly face death sentence).

Malaysia – 2014 is the most disastrous year for the country’s aviation industry, as three airliners belonging to its most reliable carriers, Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia, perished this year. The most puzzling of which was Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a scheduled flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing that ended up nowhere. After almost 10 months of investigation, involving hundreds of rescue ships and even war ships from more than 27 countries, not even the slightest trace of the plane can be found. The plane was presumed, as by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, to have ‘ended up somewhere in Indian Ocean’. This makes the search efforts even riskier, given that much of Indian Ocean’s terrains remain largely unmapped, some of which may have depth over 6,000 meters. Four months after this tragedy, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 again became a tragedy, as pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine mistook it as ‘Ukrainian military transport plane’ and shot it down. 239 people in MH370 had never been found, while 298 people in MH17 were instantly killed by the missile launched by the separatists.

And this Sunday, Air Asia, long notable as Asia’s largest low-cost carrier with great safety records, faced its first major crisis with the disappearance of its plane in Air Asia Flight QZ 8501, flying from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, to Singapore. 162 passengers and crew were inside the plane, which remains missing as of this hour.

However, other than aviation disasters, Malaysia faces another major issue in regard to the country’s increasing authoritarian rule, as Najib’s administration restarted decades-old sedition laws, used only during British colonial rule, to detain political opponents without prior permission from judiciary powers, including Anwar Ibrahim, the most outspoken. The country also faces ethnic and religious tumults, as Christians are no longer allowed to use ‘Allah’ in their sermons, and more pro-Malay policies at the expense of Chinese and Indian minorities, many of whom have increasingly emigrated abroad.

Myanmar – the country doesn’t experience much progress in democratic transition, as one-fourth of the national parliament remains solely reserved for military. Even the constitution itself requires a law to be approved by more than three-fourths of the entire members, something which can be easily aborted by the powerful military members.

How the country handles its ethnic minorities will remain a concern to be observed in 2015 and years to come, most commonly illustrated by the country’s failure to relate with Muslim Rohingya minorities, many of whom have fled abroad to avoid persecution by ultra-nationalist Buddhists.

One thing almost for sure: in next year’s 2015 election, there is large probability Aung San Suu Kyi will not become the country’s president, given many of the current constitution’s limitations.

Nigeria – Africa’s most populated country faces its major crisis when Boko Haram, an Islamist movement affiliated with Al-Qaeda in northern Nigeria, kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls, sparking an international campaign to free them. However, the kidnapping itself is not the mere problem the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration is being faced with. Continuous suicide-bomb attacks have killed over thousands of civilians in many parts across the country, prompting military operations to capture those involved.

Nonetheless, there remains some good news that is worthy of international attention. The country, given its proximity to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, was once thought as a potential ‘bomb’ for Ebola epidemic to turn itself into a pandemic, given the country’s population that now reaches 170 million, as well as high density, low sanitation, acute poverty, and little awareness about cleanliness. However, within months, less than two dozens of cases took place across the whole country, with the number of mortality countable by fingers. This is something seemingly impossible for many experts, but Nigeria, given the national unity in facing this crisis, has proven to the world that no matter how problematic things seem to be, they can resolve it successfully.

And Nigeria’s GDP has for the first time surpassed that of South Africa, therefore becoming Africa’s largest economy. While oil and gas revenues remain the largest source for government budget (and often corrupted), Nigerian economy has been more diversified in recent years.

North Korea – other than the Kim-Obama fracas about naughty comedy ‘The Interview’ and the subsequent Sony hacking attacks that follow (which may possibly be conducted by third parties using North Korean IP addresses), the country is not as isolated as people perceive anymore. Over hundred thousands of Chinese tourists are now visiting North Korea every year, followed by a large flow of cash from China, its principal ally, largely driven by informal economy that the country is mostly depending upon. As economy has collapsed, majority of the North Koreans have now turned into either smuggling or small trade, and the country’s unofficial currencies are either US dollar, euro, or Chinese yuan (South Korean won is not allowed).

The purge, and eventual execution, of Jang Song-thaek remains a proof, however, that Kim Jong-un can be as ruthless as his grandfather and father were (Jang was his uncle, and a sort of ‘intermediary’ between North Korea and China in terms of economic, trade, and investment relations).

 

(wait for part 3)

 

2014: year in review (by countries, part 1)

2014

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit

 

 

2014 has been a tumultuous, difficult, peculiar, as well as uneasy year for dozens of countries across the world. As of what we have seen so far, we have experienced missing airplanes, mass protests, return of dictatorships, currencies tumbling, political tensions, elections gone wrong, and dozens of things else which seemingly appear dim, indifferent, and oftentimes unforgiving. Nonetheless, taking it in other perspectives, there already appeared hopes, good expectations, new leaders, and new mindsets. Economy has successfully rebounded in some places, scientific breakthroughs taken place, and conventional wisdom redefined. What else to expect in 2015? Having looked at all the hodgepodge occurring this year, it is worthwhile reviewing 2014 as it nears its end in two days or so.

Reminder: not all countries will be reviewed.

I’ll review these events by countries in alphabetical order as follows:

 

Afghanistan – not much progress has happened in terms of security, despite the end of 13-year NATO mission in this war-torn nation, which has seen countless lives, mostly civilians, perished. Indeed, this year is a particularly deadly one: more than 4,000 Afghans, soldiers, civilians, and Taliban fighters altogether, have died in a triangle of conflicts between each other. However, this year also marks the first time a relatively peaceful election organized, with an iconoclastic World Bank economist, Ashraf Ghani (formerly an anthropology major), elected as the new president, which, after months of protracted conflict with a former tribal commander, Abdullah Abdullah, agreed to form a ‘national unity government’. Equipped with technocratic experiences in rebuilding the country’s currency and housing system, which have seen some pretty good success, it is hoped that Ghani can gradually commence to reform this country, something the public is yet to anticipate next year.

Algeria / Burkina Faso / France / Mali – Air Algerie Flight 5017 tragedy took place. A flight that was supposed to fly 116 people from Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, to Algiers, capital of Algeria, ended up in a plane crash in a large swath of Sahara Desert in northern Mali, killing all people on board. The bulk of the passengers were Burkinabes and French. (This is not a pretty good year for aviation, to be honest)

Australia – Sydney hostage crisis was a ‘black swan’ phenomenon for this country known for its almost guaranteed safety. But this also serves as a cautionary tale for Tony Abbott’s government, whose popularity has been at stake with many unpopular policies amid a slowing economy, as hundreds of Australians are believed to have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The murder of 8 underage children in Cairns is also another tragedy befalling this country.

Brazil – World Cup was successfully organized in this country recently recovering from mass protests in 2013, when millions of people took to the streets to demand more attention by Dilma Rousseff’s government to address social inequality issues. This year also oversaw presidential election, by which Rousseff was reelected for the second time. Many issues remain for the President to solve throughout her tenure, however.

Brunei – this oil-rich country of barely 420,000 people became international headlines when the country’s ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, approved of first-phase sharia rules to be implemented on a nationwide scale. Caning is now introduced as punishment, and will soon be followed by other harsher ones, including amputation of hands for theft and decapitation for murder and other sinful activities. And what now happens? Emigration rate is slowly peaking up (but largely compensated by the huge inflow of migrants into this economy still enjoying the bonanza from oil industry, despite reduced oil prices).

China – As economic growth has increasingly slowed down, there is increasing proof that China’s decades-old economic miracle is seemingly coming to an end. But not so fast, people. Even with a current single-digit economic growth, the country’s nominal GDP output in 2013 was estimated to be more than 3.3 trillion US$, unmatched by any emerging economy in Asia, and even the whole world. And one achievement, as minor as it seems to be, that China has started to surpass the current global superpower, the United States, can be seen through its GDP figures measured by purchasing power parity: China has gained a whooping level of 16.7 trillion US$, while US itself is now on the level of 16.4 trillion US$.

And seemingly President Xi Jinping, as far as his government is so intent to denounce hegemony in all forms, is doing a paradox that all rising powers inevitably will encounter: exercising hegemony in their own manner. With his firm stance on South China Sea and East China Sea issue, which he explicitly states belongs to Chinese sovereignty, it remains to be seen how conflict escalation will develop in the future, in particular vulnerable states like Vietnam, Philippines, Japan, and India, all of which stake out a territorial dispute with the soon-to-be global superpower. But President Xi has many agenda in his mind as well: he is now envisioning two gigantic, new Silk Road projects, one across continents, and the other across oceans. Two new financial institutions have also been recently announced, namely BRICS’ New Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Surely, an alternative form of IMF, World Bank, and ADB, three of which are dominated by European Union, United States, and Japan. In the latest APEC Summit last November, President Xi is also currently pushing for a larger, and even more China-centric alternative of Obama-proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP). China has also increasingly asserted itself in global role by contributing financially to crisis-ravaged countries ranging from Argentina to Russia, while offering countless infrastructure projects in developing countries to strengthen China’s position. Nonetheless, in years to come, while China’s active role remains exciting for dozens of countries desperate for technical assistance, how the country will resolve numerous issues with their neighbors remains a test to be seen.

Anti-corruption campaign itself has also taken a toll with more than 70,000 cadres captured and punished, the most high-profile of which was Zhou Yongkang, the country’s most formidable security czar having embezzled up to 14 billion US$ from state budget. However, hardening this campaign remains a dangerous game for President Xi, as while doing too soft may ravage Communist Party’s legitimacy, responding too harsh will intensify internal clashes between elites competing for influence within the Party’s leadership, therefore putting national security at stake.

Denmark – this Scandinavian country didn’t receive as much attention as others had in mass media, but among diplomatic discourse and in international relations discussions, Denmark was a sensation. This country has, for the first time, emboldened its claim of nearly the entire North Pole, given that the kingdom maintains possession of its centuries-long self-ruled colony, Greenland. Canada, US, Russia, and Norway, countries with similarly big stakes in the Arctic region, have got a new competitor.

Egypt – The country returned again to authoritarian rule after two bloody revolutions in 2011 and 2013. The former was against Hosni Mubarak, while the latter against Mohamed Morsy, the first democratically elected president. Now with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a military general, leading this nation of more than 80 million, stability was restored, but rather on a false perspective. It was a kind of stability produced only under repression, and limited freedoms of expression. Many political prisoners remained incarcerated, some of whom had already been executed, while Mubarak’s associates were gradually released, including Mubarak himself. What is to expect in 2015? As long as Sisi maintains a strong control and doesn’t address crucial issues (fuel subsidies, gas exports to Israel, Palestine crisis, Suez conflict, ISIS), there isn’t much room for progress.

Guinea / Liberia / Sierra Leone – the Ebola epidemic went out of control this year, completely shutting down the three most severely impacted countries in West Africa. Nearly 20,000 people were infected, with mortality rate exceeding 7,000 people. This also served as a major leadership test for health experts and government leaders alike. While the disease has largely subsided (it didn’t turn out to be a pandemic), this leaves devastating effects for the three nations.

India – the age of national leadership had come with the victory of Narendra Modi, and the party he leads, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in the world’s largest general election held this year. More than 550 million people cast their votes, with an overwhelming majority showing support for Modi, an experienced technocrat having transformed Gujarat, his home state almost 60 million strong, into an investment-friendly regime, despite controversies surrounding 2002 Gujarat riots, by which Modi was possibly implicated. Despite the human rights limbo, Modi has proven himself, so far, as a pretty successful leader, having initiated bold moves to make India more open to investment, and more assertive in global role as well.

Modi’s most ambitious agenda is to turn India into a global power with a stronghold in Indian Ocean, something he expects to achieve within his tenure. So far, he has remained cautious in balancing his relations with both China and Japan, by which Modi was closer to the latter, particularly its prime minister, Shinzo Abe, a doppelganger referred to by some people. Nonetheless, reconciling India-Pakistan relations, despite an initial good start, will remain a challenge to be seen in years to come.

But India must pride itself on its scientific breakthroughs: having sent a spacecraft to Moon, it now sends another to Mars, making use of locally sourced technologies at limited costs. India’s flagship space organization, ISRO, will also design other spacecraft to be sent to other regions within the solar system pretty soon. Stay tuned for next milestones.

Indonesia – this country of 250 million, a role model of democracy for the world, slightly backtracked when parliament dominated by opposition passed a new regional elections bill which eliminated direct elections for governors, regents, and mayors, leading to mass protests. One main reason: much of the people no longer expect a return of dictatorship, something that can be retraced from this unpopular policy, which was soon cancelled by the outgoing Yudhoyono administration signing a presidential order to restore direct elections in administrative levels.

This country also faced another major test in democracy when the country would soon oversee the first direct transfer of power between democratically elected presidents, as seen by the presidential election hardly fought between Joko Widodo, a successful mayor of Surakarta (2005-2012) and governor of Jakarta (2012-2014), and Prabowo Subianto, the former son-in-law of dictator Suharto as well as a former military strongman, who was potentially implicated in a series of human rights abuses. Widodo hailed from humble origins, spending his childhood in riverside slums in Surakarta, while Prabowo originated from a family of aristocrats. This is also the first election by which a civilian with no military background (but with support from old Sukarno-affiliated elites) won, despite massive black campaign.

For the first two months in power, President Widodo had done successfully in addressing some issues, ranging from simplifying investment permits to reforming fiscal extent by decreasing fuel subsidies to more than 10 billion US$, as well as bringing home foreign investment by Chinese infrastructure corporations worth 27 billion US$ during APEC Summit in Beijing. Nonetheless, in terms of human rights issue, there remains much for President Widodo to resolve in the years to come. His ‘global maritime axis’ doctrine, while so far attracting populist support across the nation, remains to be seen in the future, given the country’s limited ability to realize his vision.

But the end of 2014 didn’t come smoothly for this country as an airliner went missing, namely AirAsia Flight QZ8501., the Surabaya-Singapore flight that went wrong. Up to now, the plane hasn’t been discovered. More search efforts will be deployed within due course.

 

(wait for part 2)

Timelapse: Occupy Central protests

 

I was so sorry that I had not enough time to go for any live coverage of the protests in Hong Kong Island due to amounting assignments from my university. After these few days, we had heard a lot of news on how these protests were leading to. Scuffles had already taken place between Occupy activists and anti-Occupy groups – some consisted of angry business owners who were affected by the occupation, and some others – possibly Triad members – who were paid by certain pro-Beijing parties to cause unrest. There had also been some divisions among the protesters themselves. Some demanded that the occupation sooner as the longer it takes, the less support they will receive from Hong Kong people; others, in a more idealistic mindset, remained insistent to blockade the whole business district, and some even extremely resorted to taking over government buildings, until an ultimatum was issued by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying, yesterday. The 36 hours he gave for the people ‘to disperse themselves’ was seemingly a scare tactic; majority of the occupiers had already resumed with their daily lives as of today. Some people still continue to occupy certain corners of the downtown, but as time goes by, the spirit is increasingly dwindling.

Bad news: democracy hasn’t really been achieved. As already expected, it will take a long period of transformation for this city to achieve such ideals, given the hurdles they face, and the real ‘master’ behind their lives: China. Good news: no tanks are being seen on the streets, no soldiers are used, and violence – no matter how regrettably it was – remained minimal. Change will not come soon, but I believe Hong Kong people have at least done something to let the whole world knows what’s going on here.

Here’s one video I just came across Youtube, also from South China Morning Post, about a couple of Mainland Chinese elders who show up their support – very energetically – for the Occupy Central protesters. A very rarefied moment to see such a beautiful human emotion being involved here (the male repeatedly said: ‘God watches over you! God watches over you!’). Watch the one-minute clip below:

 

Analyzing Gita Wirjawan

Gita Wirjawan - World Economic Forum on East Asia 2010

 

 

Gita Irawan Wirjawan, as his full name sounds, has nearly everything you may deem damn perfect: educated in Harvard, well-experienced in international banking giants (JP Morgan Indonesia and Goldman Sachs being his notable ones), speaks greatly, and fluently, native English (he claims his TOEFL paper-based test scores were 650), becomes a highly successful entrepreneur who predicted the 2008 financial crisis (he established Ancora Group as an anticipation to the recession by buying out shares in companies he believes will be impacted by the crisis), and contributes significantly to the massive increase of foreign direct investment in Indonesia. And, well, he’s also immensely talented in badminton and music, and develops huge connections worldwide, which easily enable him to lobby world leaders to advance Indonesia’s economic agenda on a global scale.

C’est parfait, n’est pas?

Well, I guess we have to balance the pros and cons of everybody. Not that he’s a God-like prowess, though.

We have to acknowledge that without him, Indonesia’s investment climate would have never been this bustling, despite all the commotion and rambunctiousness taking place around our country. Nevertheless, just as everybody does, he also has his Achilles’ heel: he’s no good in handling kitchen stuff.

Serving as Minister of Trade, he has – several other ministers are also actually to blame – indirectly contributed to the massive increase of garlic prices, and of other commodities altogether, that millions of people must tighten up their expenditure, at great pains, to afford the amenities. Should we deny the facts? Nationwide, television news reports – despite their oftentimes politically distorted views – displayed to us, with all the double-digit, and to a lesser extent, triple-digit, increase in percentage of the prices of commodities, only to be solved, in short term, by allowing unlimited imports from neighboring countries like India.

This scenario takes place in a totally tropical country where garlic should have grown damn easy.

Okay, forgive his mistake, though: he owns numerous philanthropic foundations, all of which aggregated under Ancora Foundation, which award scholarship for visionary, like-minded, and ambitious graduate students to world-class universities like Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Sciences Po, Stanford, or Singapore’s beloved NTU. Now taking lead, also, as president of Indonesia’s badminton association, he has groomed many successful players, and he’s now ready to prepare locally-trained world-class golfers, using his personal wealth. Must be a good brief entertainment at times where commodity prices run high, eh?

And now he’s a presidential nominee for upcoming election in 2014. His vision: a technocrat-driven government. This is one I particularly very endorse. About our current leader? Without mentioning his name (you know what I mean), he’s been too much consensus-driven. Other political parties are claiming a bigger stake in governance, for the parties’ own sake. Were he elected, could he endorse technocrats to take seats in the state apparatus? This country, now with all its golden opportunities, should have been led by a government based on meritocracy, not one solely dependent on uneasy coalition.

Okay, let’s forgive our current president for the mistakes he made regarding the cabinet structure, which derives mainly from proportion of political parties included in his coalition; maybe this was his Hobson’s choice, given the relatively fragile political situation at that time. Now, with GDP surpassing 1 trillion US$, with more than 100 million people now entering middle-class status, Indonesia should have been ready to embrace for a merit-based regime. Where a ministerial seat should have been occupied by one really well-experienced in that field, not a leader of a certain political party showing superficial loyalty to the president.

Gita Wirjawan has a bonus for that. He only lacks another finesse, though: most of those who have heard his name are solely based on major cities. And those living on countryside? I doubt if many of them are well acquainted with him.

Will you support him on upcoming election? You decide.

 

Read his profile in Wikipedia.

Listen to his interview on Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), back in 2010, when he was serving Head of Indonesia’s Investment Coordinating Board, the one tasked with persuading foreign businesses to invest in the country.

And this is his main vision as a presidential hopeful. Read it at The Jakarta Globe.

Resolution for the scandalous, chest-haired king

If these polygamists paired up, that would be a perfect choice. (right side: Aceng Fikri, the deposed regent of Garut Regency, West Java, who flared up widespread controversy after marrying an under-aged girl and divorced her in 4 days, by SMS).

 

“I’m apprehensive of the fact that there are certain minority groups which are agitating us, Muslim comrades.”

“These minority groups…they domineer not only in economy, but also in politics. See how they’re preparing themselves for the arena.”

“I feel that I’m incapable of answering your questions.”

“Mick Jagger may be proud that he has fans. But I have followers.”

“I’m gonna brush up on the government’s statistics shortly before the election.”

“It’s not me who wants to nominate myself for President. It’s a holy task, by the good will of Allah, that calls me to do so.”

“I feel it’s kafir that Muslims elect non-Muslims to lead and serve them.”

Having the panoply of faith-blinded myrmidons, the ‘herd’ of help-mates, the comrade of dangdutcavalry, and, what’s more inextricably tied to the megalomaniacal Rhoma Irama than all the gains above he had had through all his soap-opera-like pilgrimage of life?

 

“I’ll promise you I’ll research more on fuel price hike policies, only if you elect me.”

 

An interview in Metro TV, perhaps, had reduced his likelihood of a presidency he was so inclined that he claimed ‘a banzer of my faithful disciples could help me win the 2014 election’.

Surveys, in fact, have previously recommended politicians, military generals, and/or businesspeople for this paramount seat. Names like Prabowo Subianto, Aburizal Bakrie, Jusuf Kalla, Dahlan Iskan (we won’t wish a president who may act like a clown in tollroads and wears sports shoes in formal ceremonies), Mahfud MD, Sri Mulyani, or Gita Wirjawan were among the top 10 potential nominees. But this pudgy old man all of a sudden? The response bears verisimilitude to that of Balram Halwai in The White Tiger: what a fucking joke! Even it is a plethora of times better to have them, despite their disputation over certain cases, seated in the 5-year post than this megalomaniacal, self-claiming firebrand cleric who thought having led an ‘Islamic solidarity movement’ has been more-than-okay preparation for such sacrosanct position.

Okay, perhaps these public figures’ wrongdoings, except for those of Mahfud MD which are probably either nonexistent or closely concealed, are enormous. Prabowo was indicted in severe human rights abuses in 1990s. Bakrie was found out having conspired with Gayus to conceal his taxes, then denied his responsibility for Lapindo maelstrom and the BakrieLife scandal. Jusuf Kalla is, according to  @TrioMacan2000, a Wikileaks-like anonymous account, brilliant and quick-witted, but his despotic, parochial attitude is just ‘too unbearable’. Dahlan Iskan never ceases from making headlines every time, as though he reeked of his face being posted over the front pages every day. Sri Mulyani finds herself more comfortably working in Washington, D.C. and managing global economic affairs, than catches up herself being protested nearly quotidian in Jakarta (and nationwide) for Bank Century scandal. Gita Wirjawan, a Harvard-educated, Western-minded graduate with TOEFL scores worth 650, is primarily targeted by mass media when his business empire, Ancora Group, was rumored to be ‘a safe haven’ for the assets bailed out from Bank Century. Now this dangdut king, with an iota and even no expertise in playing dirty, wants to pull the gauntlet? Does he have, just like cats do, a dozen of back-up lives in his body? He’s doing another stand-up, I suppose. Or maybe not. He claims Islamist parties are ready to back him up, when Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s two largest Muslim organizations, strictly recommend their 80-million-strong members not to ever ‘nominate’ this guy as a candidate.

 

“Mr.Rhoma, let me test you regarding the knowledge you need suppose you were the president. Do you know who Xi Jinping is?”

“Oh, I see. He must be a business partner of Ahok, isn’t he? He’s a danger to our country then!”

*Najwa face-palms.

 

Well, we know for cock-sure, simon-pure that his chances are slim, but what if, in the funniest-case (rather than worst-case) scenarios, he won it out? What is he gonna do with a nation of 250 million, already perplexed by problems seemingly aeons-old and labyrinthine, given that his finesse is restricted to singing and performing oratory, fiery speeches? Here are a few, among too many, things that he ought to note down: (only if he happens, by accident and by probability of 1 in 1 million, to click my blog after Googling his name)

1. Put up with, or split it up.

Rhoma had no guilt, albeit his reputation was stained (actually it’s been long dirtied) by his racist remarks in a talk he gave in a Jakarta mosque – he said, “It’s malignant to have a Christian lead you!”, obviously referring to Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or in short, Ahok. If he were, and only if God Himself were so ‘benevolent’ to grant him the golden opportunity, and if he failed to pay respect to other religions and/or any other minorities else, expect yourself to see an independent Papua, Bali, Maluku, and a pantheon of ‘mini-states’, emerging in this country. Up to day, the question remains ‘what if’.

2. You can’t end the dominance of the ‘slant-eyeds’ simply by expelling them.

As in the verbatim above, it can be inferred that he disrelishes the Christians, and regards the ethnic Chinese in disesteem. “These groups….domineering not only in economics,”, and this catchphrase is clearly referred to ‘us’! You must have remembered, only if you watched, when Najwa Shihab enquired him whether he’s actually mentioning Ahok for this disadage and he replied with a big ‘yes’. Matter-of-factly speaking, as much as two-thirds of our economy remains under the control of the politely so-called ‘Tionghoa’, whose existence represents no more than 5% of Indonesia’s population, and whose dominance largely affects Indonesia’s long-term economic development. So, if you would like to implement ‘active and drastic measures’, you might be no different from 20th-century dictators. Why not just persuade them to be entrepreneurs?

3. You say you let the Cabinet do all the jobs, and…

You go on with your Soneta business? Do a sing-a-long at Presidential Palace with your personnel, entertain 250 million people, and ensure ‘everything is solvable with music’? And that means while you’re at the helmet to do Koontz and o’Donnell stuff, that you plan, organize, direct, and supervise your staff, and because you have no expertise in handling national and international issues, you just let them do what they are supposed to do, like as you told Najwa? Even a vision-impaired Gus Dur knows more about the world than you do. For such possible occurring, there is nothing more I can recommend but to……

4. Return to your old dormitory.

You told Najwa you dropped out of university, but which one? Which academic year? You also highlighted your experience as a parliament member in 1990s, but what’s your contribution? More complicitly, other than singing and showing off that chest in your hair? Meanwhile, regarding your once ‘being in the institution’, I pull out 2 conclusions: you either got admitted to that ‘university’, in your subconscious mind, or you really got ‘admitted’ to that ‘university’, but only as a visitor. I strongly recommend that this guy had better enroll in admission exams next year, and see how far his ‘expertise’ could go on.

5. Beware of ‘America’.

Your vision, and all the subliminal messages you transmit to your disciples, do echo like those of a pan-Islamist. America, on the other hand, to ensure ‘world peace’ and to make sure ‘American interests’ are not in harbinger, have always had many of its CIA agents stationed up from North to the South Pole. Did you remind yourself to consider how many megalomaniacs like you have been deposed by the so-called ‘Western-bribed’ mercenaries? Or are you oblivious, or even negligent, on the fact that people could be anytime angered by your leadership, and Uncle Sam would have possibly made use of that chance to brainwash them to revolt against you? Ah, forget that. I only realize that ‘your singing’ can bring a predicament to the masses, like an ointment.

6. Memorize the list of member states in United Nations.

As a leader, you should learn to identify which countries have tremendous mutual benefits for Indonesia, and which ones would bring more maladies. Don’t make us dumbfounded that you announce ‘arms-dealing treaty’ with the al-Shabaab gendarmerie, or ratify ‘nuclear research treaty’ with Kim Jong-un, or offer ‘scholarship programs’ in Chad, or even ask Julia Gillard for a proposal. I’m afraid your first priority in foreign-policy objectives is to ‘arm every viable Palestinian to turn Israel into an ocean of fire’. Or you maybe think that Park Jae-sang is UN Secretary General, and Ban Ki-moon popularizes Gangnam-style hysteria.

7. Eliminate ‘family planning’?

So, basically, only because Koran permits every man to engage with, in maximum, 4 women, and you would exert authority on the Parliament to pass legislation to persuade every Indonesian man to unite 4 women in the holy wedlock at the same time? It might only be a stone’s throw away from seeing Indonesian population eclipse that of China within 4 decades.

8. Now it’s your job to fill the rest.

Well, it’s only 3 days left before 2013 commences. Given that all of us had survived the procrastinated-to-time-immemorial apocalypse, fortunately I had this splendid chance to utter such meaningful words to you. Read it or not, I even bet you won’t understand half the context of the words I’ve been writing below.

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR, MORON!