Looking back at 2017, we are reminded that life is full of surprises. The world changed for the better in many instances, but not in others. Let us recap stories from around the world, keeping the India angle for next week.
The US led the change this year. With President Trump doubling down on his nationalist policies and gutting thousands of activist rules that came into force under Obama’s presidency, the US economy took off like a rocket. Growth in Q4 is expected to hit nearly 4 per cent — a feat unbelievable for an economy of its size.
If growth averages 3.3 per cent for the whole year, that would be at twice the rate of 2016. It would mean that $612 billion worth economic activity, as much as the entire economy of Sweden, would be added just this year! Unemployment is very low and the stock market is at record highs. The economy is so strong that the Fed continued to raise interest rates —three times in 2017 alone.
President Trump officially declared that America would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This is a major move in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has angered many European and West Asian countries. By America taking this issue off the table, it could pave the way for peace talks to resume.
The year was huge on this front. The #metoo movement vanquished the careers of 97 powerful men till date, all accused of sexual misconduct: no jury, no judge, no courts. The pendulum has swung so far that America has now changed forever. It will no longer tolerate sexual predators in public workplaces, although it still has a long way to go in dealing with problems where low-wage workers toil, such as in restaurant kitchens, hospitals and hotels.
At the dawn of 2017, no one imagined that ISIS would be decimated in Syria and Iraq. This has liberated millions of people who were forced to obey a regime which imposed an extremely harsh interpretation of Islam. The terror group has now fled to Africa, where it is being hunted down. The problem today is not so much from a caliphate but from lone-wolf attackers in distant cities like New York City, Manchester or Paris.
Power of China
With the US withdrawing from the Paris climate accord and the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty, China is slowly asserting its position as the world’s next superpower. The country is already expanding its influence in many Central Asian countries all the way to the English Channel because of its ‘One Belt One Road’ investment. Meanwhile, its Maritime Silk Road is taking over shipping routes and ports in Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Kenya.
Elections and politics
Worldwide, leaders solidified their power. In China, President Xi returned to another term as the Communist Party General Secretary. Having already cleansed the elite committees of opposition forces, his selection was a mere formality.
But he is probably one of the most powerful Chinese premiers since Chairman Mao. In Russia, President Putin announced that he would run for another six-year term. If he were to complete it, he would have been in office for 24 years — a remarkably long period. Angela Merkel, already the longest serving leader in the EU, won her fourth term as Germany’s Chancellor. In Japan, Shinzo Abe returned to power in a landslide victory.
The young ’uns
This was also the year when young leaders emerged. In France, Marine Le Pen lost to Emmanuel Macron, one of the country’s youngest leaders. In Austria, Sebastian Kurz, a brilliant 31-year-old was elected as its Chancellor, making him the youngest leader in the world.
Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader believed to be between 33 and 35 years old, created havoc in the Pacific by launching long-range missiles. The US, China, Japan, Korea and Russia all see North Korea as a major threat to world peace.
A 32-year-old was named heir to rule Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s richest country. His anti-corruption drive placed hundreds of royals under house arrest at the Riyadh Ritz Carlton. Warming to the west, he has reduced the influence of the religious police. Women will now be allowed to drive and go to movie theatres. The kingdom is waking up to create a future where it will be welcomed by the world even as it moves away from dependency on oil and becomes a more diversified economy.
Business and tech
Artificial intelligence, robotics and self-driving cars made substantial progress. For the first time, Google researchers used AI to detect an eighth planet orbiting the Kepler-90 star. Several countries, like Sweden and France, announced a gradual phasing out of the internal combustion engine. Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency, valued at less than $1,000 just a few years ago, rose to $19,000. Apple’s market value briefly passed $900 billion, the highest ever for a publicly traded company.
In tennis, Rafael Nadal surprised everyone by claiming the number 1 rank and winning two Grand Slams. Roger Federer’s performance was even more surprising, coming in at a close second, winning two more Slams and beating Nadal each time the two played.
The year 2017 has been a hyperactive one for the history books. It will be interesting to see how 2018 will turn out.