Xi Jinping named The Straits Times' Asian of the Year 2017
Goh Sui Noi
The Straits Times/ANN
Chinese President Xi Jinping has been named The Straits Times' Asian of the Year, the first time that a newsmaker has won the award twice.
Xi, 64, was chosen by a panel of editors for "having been a crucial source of stability at a time of great uncertainty for the region and the world".
The award is given out every December in recognition of an Asian or Asians who have made a significant impact to their societies or the wider region over the past 12 months.
This year, the newspaper is also paying a special tribute to veteran Singapore diplomat Tommy Koh, a stout defender of a rules-based international order.
The editors noted that in a year of disruption and change, marked by a power transfer in the United States with the election of a new president, China's President has been a picture of calm and sobriety. He also offered a vision that went beyond his country of 1.38 billion people to encompass Asia and the world.
Xi, the editors added, demonstrated leadership throughout the year - from his stout defence of free trade and endorsement of efforts to combat climate change, to articulating a vision for a connected world in hosting the inaugural Belt and Road Summit.
He also succeeded in consolidating and enhancing his power at the Chinese Communist Party's 19th national congress. The meeting takes place once every five years.
This year, China also declared its intentions to start negotiations with Asean on a Code of Conduct to manage disputes in the contested South China Sea, and brokered an agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar on how to deal with the 600,000 Rohingya who had fled harsh treatment in Myanmar to Bangladesh in recent months.
In selecting Xi for the award, the editors hoped "he will be able to draw on the wisdom of China's rich civilisation and long history to present the world with a China that while pursuing self interest, does so with patience, empathy, generosity and, above all, respect for the rule of law and fair play in international relations".
"If he succeeds in achieving half of what he speaks about, Asia, and the world, will be transformed, and for the better. The China Dream could well be an Asia Dream," they said.
Warren Fernandez, Editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/Tamil Media Group and Editor of The Straits Times, who chaired the panel that deliberated on the award, said: "President Xi has stood out this year for the impact he has made both at home and abroad. At a time of great disruption in the world, he has projected good sense and calm. He has helped steer the world forward in its push for globalisation and trade, as well as supporting efforts to tackle climate change and foster closer regional ties in Asia."
Xi first won the award in 2013, together with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. New leaders of their countries then, they were acknowledged for the promise they held out for the rest of Asia.
The inaugural award, in 2012, went to then Myanmar President Thein Sein and the 2014 award went to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was given the 2015 award posthumously.
Last year, a group of technological and business leaders won the award for their path-breaking initiatives that unleashed changes in the communities around Asia and the world.
This year, Koh receives a special tribute "for the way he has brought the best of humanity to his country, even as he took the best of Singapore to the world", said the editors.
The veteran diplomat "has stood up for a rules-based order in a chaotic world", displaying a tireless readiness to work towards compromise in the most difficult diplomatic situations, they said.
Koh, who turned 80 last month, is also a champion of the arts, the environment and civic engagement. He has not been short of accolades at home and abroad and in October received Indonesia's inaugural Mochtar Kusumaatmadja award, which acknowledges prominent academics and practitioners who have contributed significantly in international law.
But on the occasion of his 80th birthday, The Straits Times editors found "it is befitting to pay special tribute to him for his outstanding lifetime contributions to Singapore, Asia and the world".
2017 has been a year of major disruption and change, as events from previous years continued to play out. A major changing of the guard in the American presidency left many nations feeling cut loose from their traditional strategic moorings. The leading capitalist nation that once stood as a beacon for free trade and globalization turned inwards with an America First policy.
Throughout the world, wracked also by seismic changes in technology and the way we live and work, the crucial underpinnings of international society, and the cherished stability this has engendered, seemed to be under severe stress and strain.
Xi Jinping, China’s President, and principal custodian of the world’s second-largest economy and military power, has emerged as a crucial source of stability in a time of great uncertainty.
He has been a picture of calm common sense, refined sobriety and steely determination, as well as an architect of a vision that soars beyond his nation of 1.3 billion people to encompass the Asian region and the wider world.
In January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, President Xi made a landmark speech defending free trade and warning against protectionism. The very next day, in Geneva, he stoutly endorsed the Paris Climate Change Accord, with the stirring idea that “mankind has only one homeland”. His summit meeting with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago in April set the stage for a mature relationship between the superpowers.
The Belt and Road Initiative laid out his vision for a connected world, much of it underwritten by Chinese capital.
In October, his success at consolidating and enhancing his power, evidenced in the conclusions of the 19th Party Congress in October, makes plain his role in contributing to stability and progress at home as well as abroad.
The following month, China reiterated that it would like to negotiate a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
The recent success in brokering an agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar on the complicated question of the Muslim Rohingya bespeaks the influence China wields under his stewardship.
If he succeeds in achieving half of what he speaks about, Asia, and the world, will be transformed, and for the better.
Few Asian leaders have placed such a stamp on the nation, neighbourhood or beyond, as Mr Xi has done this year. The editors of The Straits Times are unanimous in naming him the paper’s Asian of the Year 2017.
In all this, Xi has outlined a vision not just for his nation, but all Asia. It is a vision that, while grounded in domestic self-interest, can perhaps, with due care and consideration, be also used to benefit all in Asia and beyond.
The editors of The Straits Times, in selecting Xi for this award, do so with the hope that he will be able to draw on the wisdom of China’s rich civilisation and long history to present the world with a China that, while pursuing its self-interest, does so with patience, empathy, generosity and, above all, respect for the rule of law and fair play in international relations.
It is this that has prevented major conflicts since the end of World War II.
On the contrary, a mercantilist, aggressive and self-centred China would not only do injury to the rich tapestry of its heritage, but possibly, also hold back its future promise of Asia, and the wider world.
The Asian of the Year Award, hence, is as much a recognition of the distance covered by Xi thus far, as also the promise of taller peaks that remain to be ascended.
This article appeared on The Straits Times newspaper website, which is a member of Asia News Network and a media partner of The Jakarta Post
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