World On Edge After a Bruising 2015 — Not One Major Power is Optimistic About the Future

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In 2015, a sense of unease and foreboding seemed to settle on all the world’s major power centres. From Beijing to Washington, Berlin to Brasília, Moscow to Tokyo — governments, media and citizens were jumpy and embattled.

This kind of globalised anxiety is unusual. For the past 30 years and more, there has been at least one world power that was bullishly optimistic. In the late 1980s the Japanese were still enjoying a decades-long boom — and confidently buying up assets all over the world. In the 1990s America basked in victory in the cold war and a long economic expansion. In the early 2000s the EU was in a buoyant mood, launching a single currency and nearly doubling its membership. And for most of the past decade, the growing political and economic power of China has inspired respect all over the world.

Yet at the moment all the big players seem uncertain — even fearful. The only partial exception that I came across this year was India, where the business and political elite still seemed buoyed by the reformist zeal of prime minister Narendra Modi.

By contrast, in Japan, faith is fading that the radical reforms, known as Abenomics, can truly break the country’s cycle of debt and deflation. Japanese anxiety is fed by continuing tensions with China. However, my main impression from a visit to China, early in the year, is that this too is a country that feels much less stable than it did even a couple of years ago. The era when the government effortlessly delivered growth of 8 per cent or more a year is over. Concerns about domestic financial stability are mounting, as the upheavals in the Shanghai stock exchange over the summer revealed.

However, the main source of anxiety is political. President Xi Jinping’s leadership is more dynamic but also less predictable than that of his predecessors. Fear is spreading among officials and business people, who are scared of being caught up in an anti-corruption drive that has led to the arrest of more than 100,000 people.

The slowing of the Chinese economy has had global ramifications. When China was fuelling a commodities boom, Brazil was pulled along like a water-skier attached to a speedboat. This year, though, the Brazilian economy sank beneath the waves, contracting by 4.5 per cent. President Dilma Rousseff has been caught up in a corruption scandal amid attempts to impeach her.

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SOURCE: Gideon Rachman
Financial Times