What a year 2018 was!
Of course every year has its ups and downs but these past 12 months have seemed especially turbulent.
In Britain, the Brexit debate grew angrier and it continues to rage. Divisions are widening and the possibility of a ‘no deal’ outcome to the impasse in Parliament is frightening the markets, with the pound’s value falling and many companies preparing to move to other parts of Europe. The prospect of a second referendum, considered by some to be an insult to democracy, now seems more probable. Only time will tell, but there is little of that left as the March deadline looms. In such an uncertain climate, the UK must look earnestly towards other trading partners: the Asian giants, as well as those in the developing world.
Trouble is brewing too for Pakistan’s new government, led by reformed playboy cricketer Imran Khan. It is mired in economic chaos and faces challenges to the rule of law mounted by Islamist-inspired rioters protesting against the acquittal of a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, on blasphemy charges. The military failed to react with any real vigour, in spite of calls by the riot leaders to assassinate generals and judges. So who, one wonders, is really ruling Pakistan?
The inexorable march of China continues, with the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) causing disquiet in the West. But are these concerns really about security, as some analysts claim, or are they fuelled simply by the fear of a new competitor for economic dominance?
There is, though, more positive news from India. The decision by Mr Modi’s cabinet to endorse the Kartarpur Corridor into Pakistan, allowing Sikh pilgrims to visit the birthplace of the first Guru, Nanak, is a positive step. We must hope that this is a harbinger of further mutually beneficial measures to improve relations between the two countries for the great benefits that will accrue from a more peaceful co-existence.
These and many other issues have been topics hotly debated at several successful seminars hosted by The Democracy Forum, a think tank and sister organisation of Asian Affairs. We will open 2019 with another such event, to be held at London University on February 5, which will examine the BRI’s impact on Europe.
On a personal level, for me 2018 was emotionally choppy, with the loss of one dear family member and the deaths of some old friends and colleagues. Nevertheless, I was buoyed by the ongoing success of Asian Affairs, which has increased its readership and its financial security through greater support from our advertisers.
As a new year begins, I hope you, our readers, continue to enjoy the news and views from Asia that our magazine offers. And in spite of the political turmoil that shows no signs of abating, I wish you all a happy, prosperous and peaceful New Year.