Pop­ulism, the trend that de­fined 2016

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - PAGE TWO - An­drew Moody

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

ex­perts.

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

LIU ZHIBING / FOR CHINA DAILY

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