YEARENDER | WORLD

Look back 2018: Year of upheaval around the world

Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle leaving St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle after their wedding in May. The wedding was not without controversy, after Ms Markle's siblings cast aspersions on her motives. Her father also staged a papa
Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle leaving St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle after their wedding in May. The wedding was not without controversy, after Ms Markle's siblings cast aspersions on her motives. Her father also staged a paparazzi photo shoot and kept reversing his decision on whether he would attend the royal party, before bowing out. PHOTO: REUTERS
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman allegedly ordered the killing of a Saudi journalist.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman allegedly ordered the killing of a Saudi journalist. PHOTO: REUTERS
A building in Paradise, California, destroyed by the blaze dubbed Camp Fire last month. It was California's worst wildfire.
A building in Paradise, California, destroyed by the blaze dubbed Camp Fire last month. It was California's worst wildfire. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A tent being set up at the site where a former Russian spy and his daughter were found poisoned in Salisbury in March.
A tent being set up at the site where a former Russian spy and his daughter were found poisoned in Salisbury in March. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump at a dinner on Dec 1, after the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump at a dinner on Dec 1, after the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires. PHOTO: REUTERS

A clash between the world's leading economic powers, destructive weather events caused by man-made climate change, deadly intrigues and the ongoing chaotic exit of Britain from the European Union have made 2018 stand out among other annals as a grim record of the state of the world.

Some rays of sunshine did break through the doom and gloom, but even they flattered to deceive, leaving little to cheer about.

The Straits Times takes a look back at eight major events that took place on the world stage during the year.


1. SAUDI CROWN PRINCE FALLS FROM GRACE

Saudi Arabia was tipped to have the most fundamental transformation in its modern history under its reformist Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 33, who has shaken up the ultra-conservative Gulf nation with economic, social and religious reforms.

But Saudi Arabia was plunged into a diplomatic nightmare after the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its Turkish consulate in October. Turkish intelligence alleged Prince Mohammed ordered the assassination of Mr Khashoggi, who was critical of him.

The murder sparked international outrage, with the United States Senate censuring the Crown Prince and voting to end its support of Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen.

That Prince Harry was marrying a divorcee born to a black mother and a white father was seen as signalling the breaking down of barriers in the British monarchy.

With Mr Khashoggi named along with other journalists as Time magazine's Person of the Year, and despite a tour to woo back his allies, not to mention his high-profile backers like US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prince Mohammed's fall from grace has been deep and swift.


2. ROYAL WEDDING DAZZLES AUDIENCES WORLDWIDE

The royal wedding of Britain's Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle captivated global audiences in May.

That Prince Harry was marrying a divorcee born to a black mother and a white father was seen as signalling the breaking down of barriers in the British monarchy.

Beamed live on television screens around the world to an audience of billions, the wedding celebrated a British monarchy able to adapt and change in the 21st century.

However, the wedding was not without its share of controversy, after Ms Markle's siblings cast aspersions on her motives. Her father also staged a paparazzi photo shoot and kept reversing his decision on whether he would attend the royal party, before bowing out.

In continuing trouble for the new royal couple after the nuptials, public opinion appears to be turning against Ms Markle, particularly after a rumoured spat with her royal sister-in-law, Princess Kate Middleton. Her family has also continued to embarrass her and the royal family in recent weeks.


3. PLANET FACES ENVIRONMENTAL THREATS

The death of the last male northern white rhino on the planet in March was a grim reminder of the human impact on Earth, as another species marched towards extinction.

A World Wildlife Fund report published in October said humankind has wiped out 60 per cent of animal populations since 1970. Human activities do not just threaten flora and fauna - there are also a staggering number of climate change-related disasters.

The Atlantic hurricane season was another that was above average in terms of destructive storms, while the worst conflagration in California's history, the Camp Fire, obliterated a small town and left scores dead. Wildfires also swept through Europe.

The urgency of stemming global warming underscored the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Katowice, Poland, this month.

A consensus was forged on the rules for implementing the climate pact, but critics warned that they do not go far enough.


4. OUTCRY OVER NERVE AGENT ATTACK IN BRITAIN

Panic ensued in Salisbury on March 4 after a former Russian military officer and double agent for Britain's intelligence services, Mr Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with a potent nerve agent.

While they recovered from their exposure to Novichok, the incident sparked an international outcry, with the British government accusing Russia of attempted murder and announcing a series of punitive actions, including the expulsion of Russian diplomats.

 
 

Twenty-eight other countries, including the United States, agreed with the British assessment and sent home an unprecedented 153 Russian diplomats. Russia denied any involvement and accused Britain of staging the attack.

There was a further chill in relations between the West and Russia after two Britons were poisoned by the same substance in Amesbury, several kilometres from Salisbury, in June, leaving one of them - a woman - dead. The couple are believed to have come into contact with Novichok that was disposed of.


5. TRUCE IN U.S.-CHINA

TRADE DISPUTE By the time United States President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping met at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina last month, the US had imposed tariffs on US$250 billion (S$343 billion) worth of Chinese goods, and China had retaliated with its own measures.

Mr Trump has also waged war on the rest of the world, imposing tariffs on steel and aluminium imports in early March, and threatening to impose tariffs on automobiles to strengthen US manufacturers. Those moves have led to traditional US allies such as the European Union inflicting reciprocal tariffs. The cycle of economic punishment looks set to continue indefinitely.

But after a dinner between Mr Trump and Mr Xi in Buenos Aires, tensions were dialled down somewhat, with the two agreeing to put planned tariff hikes on hold and negotiate their trade dispute for 90 days. The talks are ongoing, and China has made moves to assuage some US fears over market access and forced technology transfers. But whether that will be enough to calm Mr Trump remains to be seen.


6. MORRISON IN HOT SEAT AFTER POLLS SETBACK

A revolt within Australia's centre-right Liberal Party saw the country getting its fifth prime minister in five years after Mr Malcolm Turnbull was unceremoniously dumped by members of his own party in August.

It was an ironic end for Mr Turnbull, who had himself staged a leadership coup to wrest control in 2015. Following his ouster, he resigned from Parliament.

Mr Turnbull's former treasurer, Mr Scott Morrison, was the victor in the contest for leadership of the party. But it has not been smooth sailing for Mr Morrison either.

In his first electoral test to win back the seat vacated by Mr Turnbull, Mr Morrison suffered an embarrassing defeat when the party's stronghold of Wentworth went to an independent candidate.

What's more, the latest opinion polls show his party heading for defeat in the general election, set to be held next year.


7. SCANDALS DOG FACEBOOK

Social media titan Facebook was hammered by scandals, including the misuse of data by political con-sultancy Cambridge Analytica to sway the US presidential election as well as the Brexit vote in Britain in 2016.

The misuse of the platform by Russian trolls to influence the election in favour of President Donald Trump as well as facilitate genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar - besides revelations that the company hired firms to discredit opponents - led to a public backlash, with legislators around the world contemplating increased regulation and oversight of the social network.

The company's top leaders undertook a global apology tour, with chief executive Mark Zuckerberg promising to do better at a hearing before Congress. But as more information surfaces on how it valued profits over clients' privacy, Facebook's reputation has been tarnished.

Shares of the company fell more than 20 per cent during the year, which also led to Mr Zuckerberg's wealth being eroded.


8. US PULLS OUT OF IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

US President Donald Trump announced in May that he was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, effectively consigning the signature foreign policy achievement of his predecessor, Mr Barack Obama, to the rubbish heap.

The unilateral move paved the way for the resumption of crippling sanctions on Iran and sparked condemnation from America's Western allies, which argued that there simply was not a better deal possible than the 2015 pact to curb Teheran's nuclear ambitions.

Iran reacted belligerently, warning it would resume activities for the enrichment of nuclear fuel. But countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel welcomed the resumption of sanctions on their common enemy.

European countries have backed Iran, promising to take measures to ensure that their companies can continue to do business in Iran, while China and Russia have also vowed to stand up to the US.

However, the US has warned that it will not hesitate to place sanctions on allies that violate the Iran sanctions, setting the stage for a transatlantic showdown.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2018, with the headline 'Look back 2018: Year of upheaval'. Print Edition | Subscribe