Populism, the trend that defined 2016
Landing in heavy fog at London’s Heathrow Airport, I began to wonder whether the plane had somehow returned to its Beijing origin.
Debates about pollution in China often draw comparison with the so-called pea soupers in London in the 1950s.
This, however, was just December low cloud and soon cleared unlike the air problems recently experienced in northern China.
I have been back in the UK for Christmas but aside from the turkey and watching the queen’s annual Christmas broadcast, one of my tasks at this time of the year is to interview various experts about what they expect to happen in the year ahead.
For this year fog seems a useful metaphor. 2016 has not been a good year for
This Day, That Year
Not only have they mostly got everything wrong but somehow contrived to make themselves objects of derision in their own right.
We should, apparently, no longer listen to people whose business it is to know what they are talking about but ride instead on the emotions of the populace.
So visiting some of these experts in their own homes and offices this time, has felt more like being a social worker delivering alms.
Surprisingly, you always get a warm welcome anyway. Sinologists and authors often find Christmas something of a bore.
It is the one time of the year they are not traveling around the world to various conferences and rubbing shoulders with the global elite. I am their excuse to escape their families and the mince pies.
The conversations this year were unusual in that it was more about analyzing the year that has just passed than the one that is beginning.
2016 with its populist uprisings that have seen Brexit and the election of Donald Trump has certainly been a landmark year and not necessarily one that people will look back fondly on.
The flagship BBC Radio 4 Today program here has been asking various experts what year it compares to.
China Daily contributor Peter Frankopan, director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research at Oxford University and author of the excellent The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, chose 1498.
It was transformative because Portuguese explore Vasco da Gama by sailing round the southern tip of Africa opened up the vast markets of Asia and put Europe at the center of world trade.
The year therefore was the start of globalization whereas 2016 might be seen as the end of it — if the de-globalizers get their way.
The big question though is just how pivotal the year will be. Will it lead to some sort of breakup of the global order that as existed since the end of World War II? Will institutions like the European Union begin to crack apart? Will it be the one when the West begins its decline and the East its ascendancy?
China certainly has been one of the few stabilizing forces this year.
The discussions at January’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos certainly will be more interesting than normal.
It will also end just only a few hours before Trump takes the oath as the 45th president of the United States.
We only have to hope that out of all this current fog and instability, a new order will emerge that satisfies the demands of the popular uprisings. I remain to be convinced, however.
Contact the writer at andrewmoody @chinadaily.com.cn