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Opinion
World Outlook for 2016
 NO. 3 JANUARY 21, 2016

 
 (LI SHIGONG)

As we emerge from the embers of last year, 2016 holds great potential for both hope and turmoil.

In terms of hope, athletes from around the world will compete for the highest honors in Brazil during the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. This will also be a year of hopeful expectations as the citizens of the United States cast their votes for a new president.

In the meantime, dark signs of unrest are looming on the horizon as increasing numbers of refugees have been hemorrhaging out of Syria, and the virulent threat of the so-called "Islamic State" group (ISIS) is spreading throughout the world.

The global village has shrunk again, and any small incident has the potential to rock the world. What will become of the world? People's Daily Overseas Edition  interviewed a handful of experts on international studies, who shared their views on 2016's global outlook. Excerpts of their views follow:

A tough economic recovery 

The world economy failed to throw off the vestiges of the global financial crisis in 2015, a struggle that has now continued for the past eight years. Oil prices were low at the start of the year, the global financial market was turbulent throughout the midyear period and the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed)'s move to raise interest rates at the end of 2015 sent a nervous jolt across major economies.

Will the world economy realize a complete recovery this year? In the recent world economic outlook report published by the International Monetary Fund, the world economy's growth rate in 2016 was projected to reach 3.6 percent. Similarly, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) outlined a growth of 3.3 percent in its own economic forecast for 2016. Although such figures are slightly higher than 2015's predictions, they are still lower than previous expectations.

Compared to the risk of fluctuations in emerging markets, Europe is likely to realize a moderate recovery thanks to the implementation of the European Commission Investment Plan. The strategy, outlined by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in 2014, is an ambitious infrastructure investment program that aims to stimulate investments. Nonetheless, the Greek debt crisis remains, as reforms cause tensions to flare throughout the union.

Meanwhile, the Japanese economy--the third largest in the world--is projected to remain relatively stable, though fears of continued stagnation have led to increased reforms. The OECD has made optimistic predictions of the performance of developed economies in 2016, foreseeing the GDP growth rate of the United States to be around 2.5 percent, the eurozone to be 1.8 percent, and Japan 1 percent, all higher than predictions those of last year.

However, it is worth noting that in contrast to the Fed's move to increase interest rates, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan continue to maintain quantitative easing policies as a means to prop up their economies. The inconsistent monetary policies adopted by developed economies will increase the risk of future turbulence in the global international financial market.

"The world economy will experience moderate recovery in 2016; however, the pace of recovery will not be very fast," said Shen Jiru, a researcher with the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "The uneven development of the global economy will persist."

Xu Hongcai, Director of the Economic Research Department at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, holds similar views to Shen. Xu said, "It will be very difficult for the world economy to realize an overall recovery in 2016 owing to the risks of financial fluctuations in emerging economies."

That analysis is highlighted by the Fed's interest rate hike last year, which may lead the dollar to appreciate, thereby resulting in capital flowing back to the United States. If so, developing economies would face additional downward pressure this year, along with currency devaluation.

"On the whole, the economic outlook in the Western Hemisphere will be better than that of the Eastern Hemisphere, and the Northern Hemisphere's situation will be better than the Southern Hemisphere's," claimed Xu.

In addition to those concerns, the international oil price is an important factor to be considered. In 2015, oil prices plunged precipitously, sparking fears in the global market. Will the slump in oil prices be reversed in 2016?

"The price of staple commodities, especially oil, will remain low in 2016. This is related to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' (OPEC's) decision not to slash production in order to maintain its members' market shares," said Xu.

Low prices are likely to be sustained in part due to the United States' recent decision to lift a 40-year-old ban on oil exports, as well as Iran's return to the oil market after international sanctions were relaxed. Nonetheless, the demand for oil hasn't followed the swelling supply, not to mention a sagging global economy's meager appetite for increased oil prices. The Goldman Sachs Group even predicts that oil prices will fall to $20 a barrel this year.

"The massive use of renewable energies will reduce traditional reliance on fossil fuels," said Shen. "This will be good news for energy resource importers such as the United States, Europe and Japan. However, energy exporters such as Russia, Brazil, and OPEC members will face greater downward pressure."

Global threats to security 

2015 was an estuary in which traditional and non-traditional security threats met and enveloped each other. ISIS' growth was the most infamous of those threats as it rampaged like a bull in a china shop across various regions.

"ISIS' development may slow down this year due to the international community's consensus to join forces against them in 2015. This will dissolve the influence of the group," said Li Weijian, Director of the Foreign Policy Research Center at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

"However, new problems are likely to ensue. ISIS might flee to other fragile states and carry out some 'lone wolf' terrorist attacks as attempts to get back at the international community's crackdown, as well as to manifest and spread their influence," Li Weijian added.

Even so, Su Xiaohui, a researcher of international strategies at the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), holds that although a consensus is being formed, the sincerity of all parties involved is questionable. "ISIS cannot be eliminated quickly; therefore, cooperation will be limited," claimed Su.

In addition to ISIS, many other safety problems are likely to afflict the world in 2016. In Nigeria, Boko Haram Islamists may continue to carry out bloody massacres; in Afghanistan, although the majority of U.S. soldiers are scheduled to pull out of the country by the end of 2016, no signs of peace and stability can be seen in the horizon; and in Latin America, massive levels of homicides and drug-related crimes are a pervasive threat to the region's safety. Many experts believe that non-traditional security threats may become more prominent this year.

"In recent years, non-traditional security threats have been constantly on the rise. For instance, the cybersecurity problem has always existed but has been covered up by more urgent issues. They are likely to arouse more attention in the international community this year," said Su.

Wang Jun, Chief Engineer of the China Information Technology Security Evaluation Center agrees, stating, "Cybersecurity will play more important roles in bilateral and multilateral relations this year and even rank as a top priority sometimes."

Wang also thinks that although it has been several years since the U.S. National Security Agency's data surveillance program PRISM was disclosed by Edward Snowden, similar mass surveillance programs have not reduced nor disappeared from the Internet.

Diffused responsibilities? 

According to latest data from the International Organization for Migration, over 1 million refugees and migrants arrived in Europe in 2015, four times that of the previous year. Reports by the German Institute for Economic Research predict that 1 million more refugees will swarm into Germany in 2016. The European Commission expects that 3 million asylum seekers to reach the European Union (EU) by 2017.

Cui Hongjian, Director of the European Studies Institute at the CIIS, predicts that the number of refugees flocking into Europe in 2016 may decline compared to previous forecasts in part due to relevant measures taken by the EU at present. However, Europe must contend with the possibility that increasing numbers of refugees may find their way into Europe from countries apart from Syria, including South Asian countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"The refugee problem arises from war, terrorism and issues in governance inherent in some countries. If those three obstacles continue to exist or become worse in 2016, the number of refugees will continue to rise," stated Cui.

Cui claimed that the rise in the number of refugees will increase disorder, even as Europe attempts to control the influx into the continent. An effective solution would be to disperse the refugees in countries outside of Europe.

"The EU expects other countries not only to increase their financial support through the UN for the solution of the refugee problem, but also shoulder some responsibilities for maintaining regional stability," said Cui.

He foresees that the EU will continue to attempt to internationalize the refugee problem in 2016. Countries like the United States, Australia and Canada have already announced plans to take in refugees from the Middle East. This will test the resolve of the global community to come to the aid of those afflicted by the war in Syria and other war-torn regions in 2016.

Geopolitical risks 

A number of experts believe that regional problems may erupt into global concerns as 2016 matures. "As relations between countries become closer, a small incident in one region may cause a chain reaction throughout a number of nations," said Su Xiaohui, a researcher of international strategies at the CIIS.

As the glue binding the EU becomes weaker, the unity of the union may degenerate even further this year, especially considering the Ukrainian impasse in the east as well as the refugee predicament. Moreover, the United Kingdom could vote to decide whether to break its ties to the union later this year. Debt-ridden Greece may leave the eurozone.

In the Middle East, geopolitical problems are erupting en masse, with some conflicts escalating, said Li Wei, Director of the Antiterrorism Research Center at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. He asserted that the fragmentation of this region would continue and the region may reorganize itself in 2016.

There will be frequent outbreaks of controversial issues in the Asia-Pacific region, too, according to Su. "The United States meddled in maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea in 2015. It may take further steps in the region in 2016," she said, adding that special attention must be given to the Korean Peninsula.

Despite regional hotspots, experts believe that the relationship between major powers won't diverge too much from the norm in 2016. Su cited Russia and the United States as an example. "The Obama administration will try its best to avoid conflicts with Russia as the presidential election approaches. Russia's primary concern is to assuage relations with the West and create a better environment for its own development."

Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan 

Comments to yanwei@bjreview.com  

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