The world in 2019: Bottlenecks waiting to be removed

Wednesday, 2020-01-22 13:01:36
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The leaders of Ukraine, France, Russia and Germany meet at the Normandy Four summit in Paris on December 9, 2019 to discuss peace for Ukraine. (Photo: TASS)
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NDO – In 2019, the word “crisis” was mentioned constantly in a several places, including national policies, international cooperation, internal discussion and within regional and global frameworks. Together with the crises from the previous year, many more new issues arose.

Some bottlenecks were loosened, whereas others became deadlocked and tangled further. Many differences, instabilities and insecurities were further increased, which was partly attributed to some global powers’ policy adjustments in an increasingly fierce strategic competition.

1. 2019 could be considered a year that saw turbulences in global politics; and differences that couldn’t be resolved easily were the main causes that put the world in such turmoil. Such a statement is seemingly fair as the world is in a “crisis of leaders”, with superpowers being distracted by internal problems, middle powers emerging, and the United States gradually withdrawing from its traditional role as the “stability-safeguarding force.”

The two economic superpowers, the US and China, were stuck in strategic competition the severity of which intensified every day. Although by the end of the year, the two sides cautiously announced the “reaching of a bilateral trade deal”, the struggle with “tax weapons” throughout 2019 also shook the two leading economies of the world. This was only the “first stage” of the agreement that is expected to end the trade conflict between the US and China; however, it cost both sides a lot of time and negotiation efforts, while the official signing has had to be moved into 2020.

No sooner had the stalemate with its leading partner been cleared when Washington continued to open a “new front” in the tariff battle. While the “version 2.0” of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was rescued in the last minutes but still had to wait at the threshold of the US, Mexican and Canadian parliaments, the US announced a “black tariff” on its two South American partners, Brazil and Argentina. Tensions on the two coasts of the Atlantic Ocean had yet to cool down, but the US still promoted the enforcement of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruling, punishing its allies in the European Union (EU) with allegations of illegal subsidies to Airbus. The risk of disputes threatening to disrupt the global trading system has set the task for the Group of 20 to take the lead in renovating the WTO and restoring multilateral mechanisms.

2. The global instability doesn’t only stem from trade but also from political conflicts. The deadlock in denuclearisation talks has yet to be cleared after the second meeting between US President Donald Trump and Chairman of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Kim Jong-Un. The reason for this lies in the old requirements, including Pyongyang terminating missile tests and Washington stopping its joint military exercises on the Korean Peninsula.

The United Kingdom underwent a year of struggle, asking for to postpone the deadline for Brexit three times because the “divorce deal” failed to pass the door of the House of Commons. The important victory in the general election helped UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson confidently steer the “Brexit boat”. However, the “post-Brexit” challenge still remained huge, as the two sides continued to negotiate a trade agreement, with the UK no longer staying in the EU.

Many “traditional hot spots” in the Middle East not only showed no signs of cooling down but became even more complicated. The historic nuclear deal was on the brink of getting “bankrupt” due to both the US withdrawal and differences between Iran and many European countries, while attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf drove the US-Iran confrontation to escalate further. The violence had yet to subdue in Syria and Iraq, although the self-proclaimed Islamic State was thankfully eliminated. And the “post-IS” consequences spread throughout Europe when dealing with the repatriation of jihadist gunmen.

People in Colombia march to protest the difficult economic situation in the country.

The US’ lessened motivation to lead the world led to unexpected shifts. Not only gradually staying away from its previously close ally - the US, Turkey also emerged as a “reverse wind” within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), with its rejection of Washington’s request in an arms deal or the launch of a military campaign in Syria despite allies’ protests. The indifferent attitude of the US and France’s statement on a “paralysed NATO” further demonstrated internal divisions within NATO, just as the military alliance turned 70 years old.

3. Unrest and differences triggered increasing nerves around the world. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a “cornerstone” that helps maintain global security and strategic stability, crumbled following decisions from the US and Russia to withdraw from their commitments. The consequences of the INF’s breakdown became conspicuous, and the public opinion spread with nerves amid the emergence of numerous difficulties for both sides to start a concrete dialogue with each other to work out new mechanisms to control strategic weapons. The outlook of improving the US and EU’s relations was increasingly gloomy, as the West did not lift their sanctions against Moscow.

Meanwhile, the people’s grievances regarding problematic economic situations and the rifts in society resulted in a wave of heated protests in South America, raising concerns regarding the risk of a “Latin American Spring” sweeping through the western hemisphere. Protests against corruption, the wealth gap and underemployment broke out, from Chile and Bolivia to Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela, paralysing public services. A similar situation was seen in the Middle East and Africa, as a wave of protests against the “austerity” policy caused the Prime Ministers of Lebanon and Iraq to resign, putting enormous pressure on the governments in Iran, Egypt, or South Africa.

Despite being a fairly old issue, the global efforts to fight climate change are coming to a turning point , and are assimilated as a “blue-red race”, in which the party that must finish first is the act of saving the “blue planet” before the “red boundary” as the Earth warms up. In 2019, the concerns, which were triggered by the regular occurrence of natural disasters with tremendous devastation, blew up a campaign to raise public awareness and urge for greater efforts to respond to climate change.

In the dark global picture of 2019, there were still bright spots of hopes, including the signing of the largest multilateral trade agreement in Africa, the initial solutions in resolving the crisis in eastern Ukraine, and the maintained relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea after the extension of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). However, there still remains a number of crisis bottlenecks brought into 2020 that are waiting for efforts to be handled.