The best is yet to come

Ian Beales

So the Mayas were, on this at least, wrong. The world didn’t end on 21 December. We are still free to engage in the ritual of gloomy introspection and frequently false hope that marks the passing of one year to the next. It is business as usual. Civil war in Syria continues to defy the best endeavours of United Nations peacemakers. As the United States negotiates its way back from the edge of one fiscal cliff, the European monetary system continues to stare down from another into its own economic abyss. Iran remains potentially explosive and North Korea’s delusional leadership is, if not actually on another planet, technologically as well as mentally in orbit. Welcome to 2013.

For succour, we might turn to President Obama who, having won a second term, assures the American people that ‘the best is yet to come’. There are at least two problems with this. For a start, there is the unconscious irony that what is intended as an inspirational epigram for Obama’s second term, actually serves equally well (or perhaps better) as a confessional epitaph for his first. Then there is the discomfiting complication that the best yet to come might still be preceded by rather more of the austere worse, including a double dip recession.

For a president borne into office four years ago on the crest of a near-universal wave of goodwill and expectation, this second term is a chance to redeem unfulfilled promise. As the first black U.S. president, Barack Obama’s place in history is guaranteed. His test now – as it was in January 2009 – will be to turn that landmark into a lasting legacy. If the best is yet to come, will it be delivered in time for him to claim the credit?

China, as so frequently this century, may hold the key. The new Xi Jinping leadership remains a largely unknown quantity, enigma being China’s most enduring historic trait. Relations between Beijing and Washington are always crucial and usually patchy. In this, Obama now has the advantage both of genuine diplomatic experience and of not being Mitt Romney. Had the Republican candidate triumphed in the presidential race, the prospect of a new and untested Xi regime and a rampant Romney West Wing, both with something to prove at home and abroad, might have jangled diplomatic nerves.

As it is, the U.S. President still has much to prove. His sometimes clumsy interventions in South-east Asia – unsubtle embraces in Myanmar and exclusion of China from the trans-Pacific trading partnership – reveal a disquieting misreading of ASEAN priorities. This must be swiftly addressed if Obama’s Pacific Pivot policy is to be progressed. China’s increasingly tense rows with Japan and Vietnam over the disputed sovereignty of offshore islands spotlights the need for an adept peace-broker. It could cue a legitimate diplomatic initiative for Obama, but every opportunity is strewn with broken glass. The President and the new Secretary of State must tread carefully.

While Mr Obama sets out to create a legacy, Mr Xi is about to inherit one. China’s soft-power initiatives of offering long-term aid to developing countries with mineral or other natural resources, is coming of age. After more than 20 years of strategically targeted infrastructure development around the world, the investment is paying off. Nowhere has this been more successful than in Africa, where once China had little or no traditional influence or, indeed, interest.

Now, as China’s own economic miracle slows – along with the other BRIC nations, Brazil, Russia, and India – Africa shows signs of not only weathering the global economic storm, but also of defying it. South Africa, of course, joined the original Big Four emergent nations quite early, turning BRICs into BRICS. In 2013, much of the rest of the continent shows signs of genuine and sustainable growth. These links bring big dividends for Beijing. Africa’s trade with China has grown from $10.6bn in 2000 to $166bn in 2012.

So while Europe’s economy slumps, the U.S. stalls, and even much of resurgent Asia and South America loses pace, Africa starts at last to find its rhythm and stride. It is, to be sure, slow, sometimes painfully intermittent and varied in scale and pace. But it is real, hopeful – and long overdue. Over the centuries, most of the world has seen the good times and the bad times. Africa has seen little of the first and too much of the second. If there is one part of the globe where it might be said that truly the best is yet to come, it is here. Watch this space.

About the author:

Ian Beales is the Editor of Global: the international briefing


Post a comment

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Amnesty International