Xi Jinping

New Year presents hope and challenge for leaders

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 January, 2013, 3:17am

A new year is a time for optimism and hope. The replacing of one calendar with another becomes a reason to put the past behind and start afresh. Individuals can successfully do that, but governments have less flexibility. Society's challenges are the domain of carefully crafted policies and resolve, not whims. With the dawning of 2013, the bright future the world needs rests on the determination of its leaders.

For Hong Kong and China, that means fleshing out promises and delivering them. But first, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has to restore confidence in his government; his inaugural policy address on January 16 and the budget at the end of next month offer the best opportunities to do so. More protests today add urgency to the need to build trust. Leung has been assured of Beijing's support and well knows what has to be done. Beyond resolutely laying controversies to rest, he has to tackle head-on the livelihood issues of housing, poverty, care for the elderly, employment, inflation and the environment.

When Xi Jinping takes the presidency in mid-March, he has to set out and launch economic and political reforms. A strong domestic market, revamping of the banking system and breaking with the era of state-run monopolies will put the economy on the right track. Increased government transparency and accountability are essential for fighting corruption. Giving citizens a greater say in how they are governed will increase satisfaction and improve lives.

The re-election of Barack Obama as US president and leadership changes in Japan and South Korea offer China important foreign policy opportunities. Better diplomatic ties have to be forged with all three and with Southeast Asian nations to ease regional tensions. Longer-term, there is a more complicated matter that Beijing and Washington have to jointly work towards: defining a relationship in which China is less subordinate to the US and a more responsible global leader.

It is through partnership that problems will be solved. Most immediately they are economic, centred on China's slowing growth, a bleak outlook for Europe, and low growth in the US and Japan. Freer trade and open markets are a better solution than domestic monetary boosts. But trade liberalisation has another benefit. By working together, trust will be built among nations that will help resolve wider challenges. Among the most pressing are unrest in the Middle East, North Korea and Iran's nuclear threats, and climate change.