The best clothesless Emperor moments of 2020
William Pesek is an award-winning Tokyo-based journalist and author of “Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan’s Lost Decades”.
“It’s only when the tide goes out that you find out who swam naked.”
There is no better lens than Warren Buffett’s famous saying to see Asia 2020. If there has ever been a year where hidden risks have been laid bare by unfavorable conditions, it is. that of the pandemic which, fortunately, ends this evening. And if one region has seen a bull market between rulers, central banks, rulers, and entire economic systems, it is Asia.
And you, Warren! As COVID-19 slammed markets, Berkshire Hathaway was caught short of tech stocks, long on the shores and particularly exposed as the waters receded. Buffett rushed for cover in the most unlikely places: centuries-old Japanese trading companies. Although his bet of $ 6 billion in five sogo shosha Baffled conglomerates, it epitomized the upside down theme of 2020.
These miserable 12 months have not been without winners and a few highs from time to time. Concrete example: the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines. Taiwanese Tsai Ing-wen beat the odds of winning another term, much to the chagrin of Xi Jinping’s China. Moreover, the skilled COVID-19 responses led by President Tsai and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have shamed much larger economies – almost all of them led by men.
China and South Korea ended 2020 in the dark, in terms of growth, proving that only by taming the coronavirus can the world’s major economies recover. K-pop sensations like BTS and Blackpink have globalized like never before. Hit movie Demon slayer reminded us that Japan’s cultural export prospects are alive and well.
The e-commerce boom in Asia has been largely aided by a pandemic forcing billions of people to seek shelter in place. Chinese group Alibaba Holding and JD.com have had record years. Across the region, emerging platforms such as Tokopedia, Grab, Gojek, Bukalapak, Shopify, and Sendo have set web traffic and sales records.
And few in Asia were unhappy to see Joe Biden defeat Donald Trump. Even if a Biden White House keeps the pressure on Beijing, Asia can expect an American leader to treat Asians as partners, not brands to be shaken and harassed via Twitter.
Overall, however, 2020 has been a decidedly dark time worthy of a clairvoyant and more than a little underhanded reflection. So, without further ado, it’s time to commemorate – to exhibit, more specifically – the many clothesless emperor’s moments that accessorize the year of Asia. Drum roll please!
Hong Kong: The global city of RIP Asia. For years since Fortune’s infamous “Death of Hong Kong” cover in 1995, expatriate bankers have laughed at the magazine’s expense. Oh, China would never kill the goose laying the golden eggs, the boosters claimed. Well, in 2020 President Xi’s Communist Party ended Hong Kong’s legislative and judicial independence. He dashed any hope that Hong Kong people could choose leaders directly and had international press groups like The New York Times in search of freer pastures. Even Ant Group’s stock listing, an event meant to remind the world of Hong Kong’s relevance, has been trampled on.
Jack Ma: Do you think you’ve had a difficult year? Think about the guy who started 2020 as the face of the new China. The founder of Alibaba was the kind of local success Xi’s party liked to boast about – the personification of a high-tech China with the future. Ma’s Ant Group’s initial public offering, slated for November, was to be the largest in history, leaving Wall Street eagerly eager. Ma then gave a speech criticizing a regulatory system stifling innovation. The IPO was suspended, costing Ma 12 billion in two months. Ma’s status is now a mystery as Xi reminds us that capitalism is not China’s business.
The poor of Asia: Of all the 2020 entries in the global lexicon, “poor new COVID” may be the costliest. The World Bank has warned of the triple shock involving the trade war, COVID-19 and deep recessions that extend into 2021. The Asian Development Bank has said the pandemic could push an additional 160 million people into poverty in the region. In other words, poverty rates in Asia are increasing significantly for the first time since the financial crisis of 1997-1998. Unfortunately, few governments are developing bold and proactive measures to limit the damage. Hopes of recovery in 2021 are already bleak.
America’s influence: As Trump taxed Chinese goods, disrupted supply chains and destroyed Washington’s balance sheet, Xi signed the biggest trade deal in history. The United States had the belt before Trump withdrew from the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership, leaving a void that Xi skillfully exploited. Today, China is at the center of a comprehensive regional economic partnership that includes Japan, South Korea, 10 Southeast Asian countries, Australia and New Zealand. Pew Research polls show Chinese leaders are more respected around the world than Trump, and U.S. assets have lost their luster, with over $ 27 trillion in debt risking the dollar’s currency status to rob the dollar. Reserve.
Trump’s boyfriend, Abe: No world leader has thrown his arms around Trump sooner or more confidently than former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It was still a terrible look. Trump’s only other friends are Russian Vladimir Putin, Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdogan and North Korean Kim Jong Un. But Abe’s bet on Trump has yielded negative returns. Trump left Abe at the altar of the TPP and refused to give Tokyo a tariff pass. He tried to extort from Japan, like Tony Soprano, $ 8 billion a year to accommodate American troops. He pampered Kim. The only good news for Abe’s successor Yoshihide Suga is that Biden will make Trump history soon.
Bitcoin Bear: When you win on Nouriel Roubini, the cryptocurrency bulls can be on something. The New York University economist is best known for predicting the 2008 subprime debt crisis. And he still has a point that a monetary unit of uncertain provenance without the backing of a banking institution central seems more a pyramid scheme than a medium of exchange. Yet as prices skyrocket and central bankers – many here in Asia – tiptoe toward issuing their own digital currencies, even Roubini now says bitcoin is “maybe a store of value.” partial ”. What the future holds for us is just guessing. But the past 12 months have been humiliating for crypto-skeptics as Asian punters have doubled.
Central bankers: It is a sad time for the independence of monetary policy. From Jakarta to Manila to Mumbai, officials were under increasing pressure to fill the famous punch bowls. In Seoul, the Bank of Korea is facing calls for a mandate change that prioritizes tackling unemployment. Such movements are one thing during a pandemic. Yet compliant central banks take on the burden of governments to spur innovation and increase competitiveness. As attempts to avoid politically sensitive economic upgrades go on, this gambit looks particularly, well, bare.
Xi’s legacy: While Xi put Trump’s chaos and distraction to good use in 2020, he has racked up a lot of personal goals. His crackdown in Hong Kong has steered more Taiwanese towards independence and angered Xi’s bullying behavior in the UK towards Australia has left many in dismay. The crackdown on the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang grabbed the headlines, as did the deadly brawls on the contentious Sino-Indian border. The biggest failure has been COVID-19. Xi’s opacity has sowed greater distrust of the Chinese system. The Trump era was a unique opportunity to increase China’s soft power at America’s expense. Beijing ruined everything.
The strong men of Asia: The region’s supposed badass have given authoritarianism a bad name in 2020. Despite all their talk about getting things done, neither Rodrigo Duterte from the Philippines, nor Narendra Modi from India, nor Prayuth Chan -ocha from Thailand have only proved their chance for a global downturn. Their economies folded like paper tigers. Xi’s big talk about downsizing the public sector has scarcely sparked any action. In Myanmar, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was re-elected by allying with military leaders who once placed her under house arrest – a bad omen for democracy. But the same goes for the course in Asia this year.
Japanese buffet: No list of 2020’s highs and lows is complete without touching Masayoshi Son’s one-year roller coaster. The man often referred to as the “Warren Buffett of Japan” began to lick his wounds after a disastrous bet on start-up WeWork. He then spent months selling $ 80 billion in assets to stabilize his Vision fund. Son ends the year toast in Tokyo with an expected windfall from the IPO of DoorDash. Still, Son has yet to explain what awaits him for 2021 and beyond as he dresses SoftBank like a giant hedge fund – in a very different way than Buffett did.
It’s hard to think of another 365 day period that produced such a bull market of thrills, spills and drama in Asia. It’s also hard to name a time when the year ahead seemed more uncertain. Still, one thing seems clear: If someone tells you they know what’s going on for 2021, ask them to prove they’re wearing something beneath the waves.