Curtis S. Chin, former US ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, is managing director of the consulting firm RiverPeak Group. Jose B. Collazo is an analyst focusing on the Indo-Pacific region. Follow them at X at @CurtisSchin and @JoseBcollazo.
As 2023 draws to a close, we take a look back at the year that was in the Asia Pacific region.
From an earthquake in Turkey and Syria that killed 54,000 in February to the devastating wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, that swept through the historic US city of Lahaina this summer, it was a year that many in the vast Asia-Pacific region would like to put away. behind them.
But who had it good and who bad in 2023? A year that was seemingly full of conflict and void of much hope and joy.
Best Year: Indian Space Agency
The region was far from all doom and gloom this August as ISRO – the Indian Space Research Organization – dazzled citizens of what is now the world’s most populous country and space exploration fans everywhere with its latest lunar mission .
The Indian space agency’s Chandrayaan-3 (“moon craft”-3 in Sanskrit) entered lunar orbit on August 5 and just over two weeks later, his craft named Vikram landed near the lunar south pole, making India only the fourth nation to successfully land on the moon. A lunar rover named Pragyan would soon be literally making tracks on the moon.
People watch a live feed of the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft landing on the moon, inside an auditorium at the Gujarat Science City in Ahmedabad, India, August 23, 2023.
Amit Dave | Reuters
As with India’s landmark Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) — the country’s first interplanetary mission to Mars in 2013, which made ISRO the fourth space agency to successfully send a spacecraft into orbit around Mars, the relatively low-cost $74.6 million Chandrayaan mission demonstrated the power of India’s “economic engineering” model.
“India’s successful moon mission is not India’s alone,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “This success belongs to all mankind.” And for this reason and to lift the spirits and bring some hope and joy in a difficult year, ISRO wins “Best Year in Asia 2023”.
Happy New Year: Blackpink goes global
2023 might have ended with members of K-pop global sensation BTS on mandatory military service in Korea and Taylor Swift named TIME’s 2023 Person of the Year, but for the four female Asian superstars who make up exclusively women K-pop group Blackpink has certainly had an enjoyable 12 months.
Jisoo (Kim Ji-soo), Jennie (Kim Jennie), Rosé (Roseanne Chae-young Park) and Lisa (Lalisa Manobal) ended the year together applauded and awarded an honorary MBE (Members of the British Empire) by King Charles at Buckingham Palace for their role “in taking the message of environmental sustainability to a global audience as Ambassadors for the UK Presidency of COP 26 and later as supporters of the UN Sustainable Development Goals”.
LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 22: (left to right) Lisa (Lalisa Manoban), Rose (Roseanne Park), Jisoo Kim and Jennie Kim, from K-Pop group Blackpink pose with their honorary MBEs (Members of the Order of the British Empire), awarded in recognition of the band’s role as COP26 supporters for the COP26 Glasgow 2021 Summit on 22 November 2023 in London, England. King Charles III performed the special Investiture ceremony in the presence of the President of South Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol, and his wife, Kim Keon Hee. (Photo by Victoria Jones – Pool/Getty Images)
Swimming pool | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
Earlier in April, Blackpink became the first Asian all-female band to headline Coachella, and their album “Born Pink” became the first album by an all-female group to reach number one in the US since 2008. The year also ended with the news that Blackpink had finally renewed with YG Entertainment, sending that company’s KOSDAQ-listed shares soaring 26%.
Like Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh who made history in March 2023 by becoming the first Asian woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress, the members of Blackpink – from South Korea, New Zealand and Thailand – have also gone global, adding another dimension to the phrase “Everything everywhere at once”.
Mixed Year: US-China Relations
US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping finally met again in person in November at the APEC leaders’ summit in San Francisco – a bilateral meeting that was the culmination of a mixed year for US-China relations.
That the two leaders met was an achievement. 2023 was ultimately a year marked by the downing of what the United States called a “Chinese spy balloon” and continued tensions over issues ranging from trade, opioids and semiconductors to Taiwan and the South China Sea.
However, Xi, to the satisfaction of many Americans, indicated that additional pandas could be sent on loan to the United States as an extension of panda diplomacy.
2024 may well prove to be an even more mixed year as both leaders focus on domestic issues, including the US presidential election and the slowdown in the Chinese economy.
With millions of Chinese citizens still waiting for the homes they paid down payments on — but may never be built — 2023 has been a particularly bad year for China’s real estate market.
By some estimates, the ongoing, protracted real estate crisis and the country’s overall debt levels may pose the biggest credit risk to the global economy. For many members of China’s middle class, however, the crisis is also a very real threat to the “China Dream” and their hopes for a better life.
In 2021, real estate giant China Evergrande defaulted on its debt. In 2023, concerns grew about the financial health of Country Garden, which until last year was China’s largest property developer, specializing in residential properties.
A newly built property is seen from the air in Hangzhou city, Zhejiang province, China, 15 December 2023.
CFOTO | Future Publishing | Getty Images
As China’s economy continues to grow but slows and Chinese property prices continue to fall, the International Monetary Fund has expressed concern and Moody’s has cut its outlook on China’s housing sector to negative. State financial institutions are mentioned is called upon to support developers struggling to avoid default and complete construction of stalled apartment projects.
But some Chinese citizens are refusing to pay their mortgages en masse in a rare form of domestic protest. Chinese families and individuals who once saw homes as more than just a place to live but also as investments have reason to fear that 2023 will not be the last bad year they face.
In American politics, presidents as diverse as Franklin Roosevelt and Donald Trump have evoked “the forgotten man” when it served their purposes and agenda. Trump said his inauguration marked a moment when “the forgotten men and women of our country will no longer be forgotten.”
In Asia 2023, however, the region’s most vulnerable—often displaced by armed conflict—remain largely forgotten. Priorities shifted and the world’s headlines shifted away from “yesterday’s news”—moving to war in Ukraine and then Gaza. However, away from most headlines and news, crises continue in Asia, including in Myanmar and Afghanistan.
The most significant escalation of hostilities in Myanmar since the 2021 coup, for example, exacerbated an ongoing humanitarian crisis in 2023. From October 26 to December 8, more than 578,000 people were newly displaced in Myanmar in addition to nearly 2 million already displaced before from the outbreak of the battles, according to the United Nations.
Humanitarian needs also continue to grow in the country’s western Rakhine state, where about 200,000 people live in camps, mostly Rohingya who have been denied freedom of movement since 2012. The UN Refugee Agency says Bangladesh is home to nearly a million Rohingya refugees. from Myanmar, making it one of the largest protracted refugee situations in the world.
Inside and outside Afghanistan, the situation of Afghan women and children remains dire. Few are likely to know that Afghan refugees are the third largest displaced population in the world after Syrian and Ukrainian refugees. In 2023, there were at least 8.2 million Afghans hosted in 103 different countries. according to the UNHCRwith some in Pakistan now forced to return to Afghanistan.
And so, the “worst year” in Asia in 2023 sadly goes to the forgotten men, women and children of Asia — whether in Myanmar, Afghanistan or elsewhere. Consider how you can learn more and do more to alleviate their suffering in 2024 and beyond.