________________________________________________________________________ Economics and money a big concern for 1998 Copyright ) 1997 Nando.net Copyright ) 1997 The Associated Press (December 28, 1997 00:42 a.m. EST http://www.nando.net) - Money will be on a lot of minds in 1998. Asians are anxious about shoring up their humbled currencies. Europeans are debating how to give up their national money and switch to a single currency. Russians just want to make some. The world's perennial problems remain. Arabs and Jews enter another year still warily talking peace. Conflict simmers and flares across Africa. Poverty grips much of Latin America. Yet peace, however fragile, seems to be holding in some African nations long wracked by civil war. Economies are strengthening in much of the Americas. Democracy tenaciously retains its foothold in the Third World. Humankind always has been a swirl of contradictions, a producer of good and ill, and the coming year promises more of the same. The Associated Press asked some of its correspondents around the world to assess what lies ahead for 1998. Here are their reports: Asia HONG KONG -- Many Asian countries will be preoccupied with rebuilding their financial systems or trying to stave off further currency collapses. They'll be closely watched by the United States and other nations whose markets have been roiled by Asia's economic stumble. Governments accustomed to rapid growth will have to cope with rising unemployment and the political and social tensions it produces. In Thailand and South Korea, which had the most bad debts and face the deepest recessions, outraged citizens hope newly elected governments will end the cronyism that helped produce the crisis. No such change is likely in Indonesia, also badly hit. The national assembly is expected to expand President Suharto's powers to declare a state of emergency in case economic hardship produces unrest. Japan seems to be learning from its neighbors' meltdowns and is expected to let more indebted banks and companies shut down rather than try to prop them up. Hong Kong will hold its first elections under Chinese rule. Democrats who lost legislative seats with the handover say new election rules favor pro-business and pro-China parties. Elections also are planned in the Philippines and in Cambodia, where strongman Hun Sen has quashed most opposition by force. Chinese President Jiang Zemin plans cautious moves to reorganize or close debt-ridden state industries. His main challenge will be containing protests from laid-off workers, making 1998 an unlikely year for political reform or softening on dissent. Beijing's tense relationship with Taiwan likely will be tested, if pro-independence forces on the island gain seats as expected in legislative elections. Australia may face early elections because of a deadlock in Parliament over government efforts to restrict aborigines' land rights. By KATHY WILHELM Europe BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union, in one of the biggest steps toward unity in continental history, is beginning the process of joining a dozen countries in a single currency -- an act as much political as it is economic. The new notes and coins won't fill cash registers until 2002, but the 15 EU leaders will decide over a long weekend in May who gets in on the first wave and the value of national currencies against the new "euro." Eastern Europe will join the unity act as well when EU enlargement negotiations open with a number of former Soviet bloc nations. Three of those nations -- Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic -- also anxiously await ratification of their invitations to join the 16-nation NATO military alliance. At the same time, NATO is looking for ways to bring the suspicious Russians closer. Bosnia will continue to preoccupy Europeans east and west. It is virtually certain the NATO-led peace force will extend its mission past June on the widely accepted assumption that withdrawal would lead to a resumption of war. Two other clouds loom in the Balkans -- between Serbs and Albanians in the Serbian province of Kosovo and between Albanians and Macedonians in Macedonia. Romania and Bulgaria, left out of the first phase of NATO and EU expansion, are striving to overcome years of bad post-communist government. While Hungary seems to have righted itself, the Czechs face a protracted period of economic and political instability. Germans will decide in September whether to reward Chancellor Helmut Kohl with an unprecedented fifth term as head of Europe's most powerful economy. The opposition Social Democrats are moving toward a more business-friendly posture in an effort to end the conservatives' 15-year lock on power, but they can't decide whether to challenge Kohl with a leftist or a moderate. By JEFFREY ULBRICH Russia and CIS MOSCOW -- Persuading the people of former Soviet states, and Russians in particular, that reform is starting to work will again dominate the region in 1998. And stability in Russia is vital to world stability. Ask Russians to sum up in a single word what's wrong with their country. Many will say reform. Ask what they mean by reform and they start ticking off the problems: rising crime, going without pay for months, falling life expectancy. In short, many Russians think reform is the name of the chaotic system they have lived under since the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991. Many people in other former Soviet republics say the same thing. For all the grumbling, there are signs of progress. Russia expects to see its first economic growth since the 1980s. Individual rights are improving. And there are signs of prosperity in a few cities. Progress in most other former Soviet nations lags far behind, although Ukraine hopes to see growth in 1998. The problem, reformers say, is that decades of communist mismanagement cannot be fixed quickly. It will take years to turn Russia and its ex-Soviet neighbors into liberal democracies, but each year that passes peacefully boosts chances of success. Russia can still go wrong, and some Central Asian nations and Belarus are sliding back to autocracy. Russia's communists and nationalists hope they can ride people's disillusionment to power. Hardliners are hoping for big gains in Ukraine's parliamentary elections in March. Heading into 1998, the region is a bit more peaceful. Russia's war in Chechnya appears ended, but Tajikistan could slip back into civil war and there are worries of new fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan. By BARRY RENFREW Mideast JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat face critical decisions that will determine the direction of the Arab-Israeli peace process. Under pressure from the United States, Israel plans to offer to yield more land to the Palestinians, but it may not be enough to win back Arab confidence about Israel's overall intentions. Another key test will likely be whether Israel is willing to curtail expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which Arafat wants as part of an independent Palestinian state. For his part, Arafat will have to restrain Islamic militants and prevent suicide bombings to keep Israelis in a mood to compromise. Israel's talks with Syria are unlikely to move forward unless Netanyahu's conservative government changes its policy and agrees to a deep withdrawal from the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in 1967. Iran is gaining influence in the region under the new, more moderate leadership of President Mohammad Khatami. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab states that gave a cold shoulder to the recent U.S.-sponsored regional economic conference are now looking more warmly at the Islamic regime in Tehran. The rise of Iranian influence would likely spell an end to Washington's policy of keeping both Iran and Iraq isolated with economic and political sanctions. Islamic insurgencies still bedevil two secular Arab governments. Muslim militants in Egypt are increasingly torn between calling a unilateral cease-fire and continuing attacks that angered many Egyptians by killing more than 60 foreigners in 1997 and devastating the lucrative tourism industry. In Algeria, the government is locked in a bitter battle with religious militants that has killed 75,000 people since 1992 and left extremists in control of pockets of the country. By NICOLAS B. TATRO Latin America MEXICO CITY -- President Clinton plans to join Western Hemisphere leaders at April's Summit of the Americas in Chile. Free trade is at the top of the agenda. But with Clinton struggling to win support for that at home, Latin Americans are moving ahead with their own free trade zones and reduced barriers to regional commerce. The political bloodshed of the 1980s is fading into history in most of the Americas, replaced by concerns about violent crime and the seemingly eternal problem of dire poverty. Most of the region's largest countries -- Argentina, Mexico and Chile among them -- expect strong economic growth from free-market policies, though benefits have been slow to trickle down to the poor. Brazil was hurt by Asia's financial crisis, causing problems for President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who is expected to seek re-election in 1998. A more unusual race is shaping up in Venezuela, where Miss Universe 1981, Irene Saez, is considered a strong contender for the presidency. She has generally won praise as mayor of Chacao in the Caracas area. Ecuador, Paraguay and Costa Rica also will have presidential elections. Drugs and political violence continue to plague Colombia and Mexico. The leading candidate in Colombia's presidential campaign, Horacio Serpa, is distrusted by Washington because of his ties to President Ernesto Samper, accused by U.S. officials of taking drug money to win office. But he recently said he might back legislation to let suspected drug traffickers be extradicted to the United States. Colombians expect no letup in attacks by leftist rebels and paramilitary gangs that some suspect are linked to the army. Mexico still struggles with repeated crises over the influence of drug traffickers, and enters the year with two small rebel movements relatively dormant but not quelled. By JOHN RICE Caribbean SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Pope John Paul II's historic trip to Cuba will pose a challenge for Fidel Castro and the Roman Catholic Church, whose relations have been frosty, if not hostile, since the 1959 revolution. Castro's communist government hopes the Jan. 21-25 visit will enhance its image by showing religious tolerance. One possible windfall: a papal denunciation of the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba. The church, meanwhile, hopes John Paul II can galvanize believers on the island and broaden its influence among Cuba's 11 million people. Cuba officially embraced atheism in 1962, and believers suffered for their faith. Cuba wants more regional trade, and Caribbean countries are prepared to bring it back into the fold. While Washington disapproves of such moves, area leaders grumble that the U.S. government hasn't come through with aid and scholarships promised at a regional summit last May. Look for some of those pledges to be fulfilled in 1998. The region is looking for help after the World Trade Organization ruled in favor of a U.S. complaint that Caribbean bananas compete unfairly in Europe. Without a hand, island farmers could turn to drug trafficking, leaders warn. As it is, the drug trade is thriving. Squeezed in Mexico, traffickers are turning to the Caribbean as a preferred trade route. Washington will be fortifying its interdiction efforts in the region in coming months. 1998 may be a watershed year for Haiti. U.N. peacekeepers are gone, and the government is paralyzed by infighting, putting the U.S.-backed democratic experiment in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation at risk. Puerto Rico marks 100 years of U.S. rule with competing commemorations by advocates of statehood, independence and the current commonwealth system. A proposed plebiscite on the island's status will be considered by Congress. By JAMES ANDERSON Africa NAIROBI, Kenya -- Four African giants -- Nigeria, Congo, Sudan and South Africa -- will set the continent's tone in 1998. Nigeria's dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, will attempt the transformation from iron-willed military ruler to popular politician if he goes through with August elections. Laurent-Desire Kabila, Congo's new strongman, will try to obtain much-needed aid and foreign investment while attempting to keep at bay those who call for a more open government and respect for human rights. In Sudan, President Omar El-Bashir continues to insist his Islamic-based government is sincere about allowing regional autonomy for southern Sudan. But rebels, backed by neighboring countries and the United States, will keep chipping away at northern authority. South Africans are preparing for the day they will have to live without President Nelson Mandela. Thabo Mbeki has just replaced him as leader of the governing African National Congress and is widely expected to become president in two years. Low-level conflict continues in Rwanda, where Hutu rebels are stepping up attempts to destabilize the Tutsi-dominated government. Neighboring Burundi likely will see more countries drop economic sanctions, but efforts are proceeding to coax its Tutsi regime and Hutu rebels into some kind of coalition government. Personal rivalries remain a threat to the stability of Charles Taylor's fragile civilian regime in Liberia, and doubts persist the military junta in Sierra Leone will keep its promise to return power to the elected government it overthrew. In Angola, Jonas Savimbi probably won't go to Luanda to fulfill his government role under the 1994 peace accord that formally ended a 19-year civil war. But international pressure is nudging his UNITA army toward giving up most of the territory and diamond fields it controls. By SUSAN LINNEE United Nations UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations enters the new year with the prospect of further downsizing and downgrading as a forceful and independent global institution. Iraq and its refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapon inspectors remains a thorn for the 15-member Security Council. No strong action seems likely, however, with the the United States and the four other council powers unable to reach a consenus on dealing with Saddam Hussein. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's efforts to restructure the organization have not been enough to convince the United States to pay its $1 billion in arrears. As a result, the United Nations is expected to finish 1998 with a $200 million deficit in the operating budget and owing $800 million to countries that have provided troops to U.N. peacekeeping operations. For years, the United Nations has lumbered along by borrowing from the fund used to reimburse countries for peacekeeping expenses. But as many peacekeeping operations close, that fund is dwindling. Annan has warned that new sources of cash must be found unless the United States and other major debtors start paying their bills. At the same time, the United Nations' role as an independent player in world affairs is clearly in decline. Annan's predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, was denied a second term in 1996, largely because Washington resented his independence. Annan, in turn, has deferred to Washington and other major powers on such issues as sending peacekeepers to the Republic of Congo or increasing the oil revenues that Iraq can use to buy food and medicine. Annan's supporters say he has little choice. Without resources and rights of a sovereign state, he must serve the interests of the U.N. membership, and especialists its wealthiest and strongest members. But critics argue Annan must also serve as an advocate for those without the power and the voice to influence the great powers. By ROBERT H. REID ________________________________________________________________________ Rough year in the making for Japan's economy Copyright ) 1997 Nando.net Copyright ) 1997 Agence France-Presse TOKYO (December 27, 1997 11:30 p.m. EST http://www.nando.net) - When Japan's fourth leading securities house collapsed and its president finished his last press conference in tears, the Japanese public knew their economy was in a shambles. Amid shattered corporate confidence, many facing up to the bad shape the economy is in, fear their year-end salary bonuses could be cut. "We had one horrible news after another and many think it is not over yet, " said Tetsu Ishijima, chief strategist at Okasan Securities. Some analysts are tracing the current crisis back to a consumption tax increase in April, which affected consumer spending, and has in turn led many corporates into a life-or-death struggle. The catchphrase in Japan these days is "financial system crisis." The description of the local economy has become more real for many Japanese following the recent decision by the century-old Yamaichi Securities Co. Ltd. to declare insolvency just a week after one of the country's top 10 city banks collapsed under a mountain of bad loans. Economic indicators point to more bad news to come for the world's second largest economy before any reversal of the current trend. The Ministry of International Trade and Industry said Thursday that industrial output in November dropped 4.1 percent from the previous month, much more than the 2.2 percent decline forecast by the ministry. The ministry said on the following day that retail sales in November dropped 4.7 percent year-on-year, the largest fall since the ministry began compiling such data in 1955. The nationwide consumer price index in the same month fell 0.7 percent from the previous month, a sign that stagflation may be just around the corner. The unemployment rate has remained at 3.5 percent, matching an all-time high. Trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange has also suffered with prices plunging 3.3 percent on Friday. Analysts are pessimistic about any measures to launch a recovery of the economy and many businesses are looking to a rough ride ahead in 1998. Those who remain optimistic that a recovery is possible, however, point to Japan's strong economic growth potential and immense public savings. They blame the country's politicians for the economic standstill and believe the government could improve confidence. "We still have not seen constructive policies or measures which can help circulate money," says Hiroshi Sakurai, an economist at Kankaku Research Institute. The economist said that falling share prices were a fair verdict on politicians' inability to address the economic slump and take necessary action. "Some economic measures did come out but the stock market, where so many investors have their money, has responded correctly," Sakurai said. "Those investors have eyes which cannot be deceived by mere looks of clever policies by the government." While most analysts and investors welcomed Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto's surprise announcement 10 days ago of a one-time income tax cut worth $15 billion, they said much more was needed. "The government needs to launch a system in which unlimited amount of public funds can be injected" to rescue financial institutions burdened with huge bad loans, independent economist Keitaro Hasegawa said. Hasegawa said the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party's scheme announced Wednesday to issue 20 trillion yen ($153.8 billion) worth of government-backed bonds to help the ailing finance sector was not the form of a public fund called for in revamping the economy. "It is senseless to impose an upper limit for the public fund use when there is no telling how much it will cost," Hasegawa said. Hashimoto, he said, needs to shift his policy priority on fiscal reforms to tackling economic troubles at hand and carrying out painful, but healthy reforms of the finance sector. "The policy turnabout is an absolute (necessity) as doing things at the wrong timing would cost huge money," Hasegawa said.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Apr 13 2001 - 12:58:32 PDT