The start of a new year is traditionally the time to make resolutions. With the turmoil that was 2008 still hanging menacingly above, we should have little difficulty thinking of ways to change our lives. Individually, this will involve all manner of social, financial and physical determinations that we may or may not adhere to as the days pass. Collectively, though, there is a single pledge that we must make and stick to resolutely: to put the gloom of the past 12 months firmly behind and look to the future with the utmost optimism. Such a sentiment may garner a considerable measure of scepticism, given the horrible year we have just endured. But how else could we face the coming year, which has already been written off by many as one that will be even more difficult than 2008? Looking back, 2008 began in an upbeat mood, with the Beijing Olympic Games and US presidential election to look forward to. There was nary a whiff of the economic meltdown that has now turned our economy from respectable growth to recession. Our shares were performing nicely, commodities and oil at record prices and property values steadily rising. We were aware that something was amiss with the US lending sector, but what had been revealed at that point did not appear excessively worrisome. Besides, China was still powering forward, with breakneck growth largely shielding it from dips in the global economy, which would hold us in good stead. Or so we figured. Change of fortune How wrong we were. One by one, pillars of the financial world fell or cried for help, taking down life savings, pensions and even national economies. Governments and the International Monetary Fund stepped in. Spending dried up, company profits fell and workers were laid off. Comparisons were made with the Great Depression of the 1930s. The mainland was not as unaffected as we thought. Foreign factories closed, taking taxes and jobs. Nature also delivered heavy blows during the year. The worst snowstorms in half a century struck in January, stranding hundreds of thousands of Lunar New Year travellers; in May, 88,000 people died in the Sichuan earthquake. Scandals involving tainted food disrupted exports, the worst involving the chemical melamine being added to dairy products. There was no doubting that the Olympics would be a triumph and they were that and more. Questions about China's capability to stage the world's greatest event were laid to rest with the opening ceremony. But their shine was somewhat tarnished by international protests over Tibet during the international legs of the torch relay. In Hong Kong, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen limped from crisis to crisis. There were missteps over the political appointee system, maid's levy and pensions for the elderly. He starts 2009 with his approval rating at an all-time low, increasingly facing calls to resign. His fortunes will be tied to the city's economic recovery. Overseas, Barack Obama's election to be the 44th president of the US has raised hopes. He campaigned on a promise of change and in him rests our expectations for a strategy to lead the world out of its financial gloom. In him we also have a chance for greater multilateralism. The United States and China could yet join forces to fight global warming. Sensitive anniversaries Prediction is a risky business, but one thing is fairly certain about the coming year: much of 2009 will be spent cleaning up the debris from the economic fallout. In this, some countries and economies will fare better than others, but recovery of the US economy remains the key. Hopes that India and China, the twin engines of world economic growth, would be shielded from the meltdown have been dashed. But the fear and frustration may be exaggerated. The fundamentals for growth remain intact, and 'Chindia' may yet pull through in 2009. But with China, it's not just the economy. The burden of history will weigh heavily on the shoulders of Beijing's leaders as 2009 marks quite a few politically sensitive anniversaries, almost monthly. March will see the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising. Given last year's violent disturbances ahead of the Olympics, no crystal ball is required to predict a new round of protests in many quarters around the world. The month of May will mark the first anniversary of the Sichuan earthquake and the 90th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement, out of which emerged modern Chinese nationalism and the Chinese Communist Party. The June 4 incident, the worst upheaval during China's transition to a world economic power, will mark its 20th anniversary. But on a more uplifting note, the People's Republic of China will be 60 years old in October, while December will mark the 10th anniversary of Macau's handover. These events show how far China has come, but also how much further it has to go. Thirty years of reforms have irreversibly opened China to the world. This year will be a severe test of globalisation. But with an abundance of international goodwill and good luck, the world will step back from the precipice, which it was briefly in danger of falling off last year.