The Korea Herald


[Robert J. Fouser] Looking toward a more stable 2023

By Korea Herald Photo

Published : Dec. 30, 2022 - 05:31

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Events of the last view months of 2022 offer hints about the direction of the world in 2023. In November, results of the US midterm elections deeply damaged Donald Trump’s prospects for a return to the White House. In December, China abandoned its long-held “zero-COVID” policy, beginning the long process of returning to normal. And just before Christmas, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a surprise visit to Washington and gave a stirring speech to a joint session of the US Congress. Trump, China and Ukraine -- these three words represent broader trends in the new year.

First, Trump. Donald Trump will never be president again. He is done. He will struggle to win the Republican nomination and will lose if he does. If he doesn’t get the nomination, he will run as a third-party spoiler candidate or make up a health crisis to exit the race before the losses pile up.

With the prospect of a second Trump presidency off the table, Vladimir Putin, who liked Trump's critical stance toward NATO, will have to factor the new reality into his plans. Putin will look around and see that no Republican candidates approach Trump’s critical stance toward NATO. This makes it difficult for him to wait Biden out for the next two years, which should influence his approach to the war in Ukraine.

In the US, the end of Trump brings complications for both parties as candidates prepare for nomination contests that will begin in little more than a year from now. President Biden will soon announce a decision about running for reelection soon. Most Washington insiders expect him to run, but 57 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of all voters do not want him to. Meanwhile, Biden’s approval rating languishes in the low to mid-40 percent range, which bodes ill for his reelection.

Biden’s age is a large part of the problem. He will turn 82 in November 2024, just weeks after the election, and would be 86 at the end of a second term. Biden is in good health, but appears weak at times and rarely gives extemporaneous interviews, which exacerbates concerns about his age.

With Trump off the table, Biden’s electability comes into question. In the 2020 race, Biden stumbled at the beginning as Democrats were looking at other candidates who stirred more passion, but the party quickly rallied around him because they thought (correctly) that he was the strongest candidate against Trump. With Trump out of the picture, Democrats may be feeling freer to look for a younger, more exciting candidate than Biden.

If Biden decides not to run for reelection, Democrats will face an open primary campaign. History shows that vice presidents, both sitting and former, almost always end up winning the nomination. This makes Kamala Harris the favorite for the nomination, despite her negative poll numbers. Vice presidents have a mixed record in general elections, and she would enter the race with doubts about her electability.

Next, China. The reopening of China, the world’s most populous nation with the world’s second largest economy, will reverberate through the world economy, particularly in the first half of the year. COVID-19 cases will spike, causing a temporary downturn in the economy that could affect supply chains and cause other disruptions.

Recovery later in the year will see a surge in economic activity, which will exacerbate global inflationary pressure. Toward the end of the year, China should find itself back to normal as most countries are now. Economic growth will be stronger, which should help dampen the effects of weakening growth in the US and Europe.

Finally, Ukraine. On his visit to Washington, President Zelenskyy found strong US support for Ukraine, but with hints of a fraying bipartisan consensus in favor of support. That means that US financial support could lessen or even dry up in the future, particularly with the Republicans in the majority in the House of Representatives.

Putin is facing increasing domestic discontent over the war, which should help push him to the negotiating table. Facing the prospect of eroding support in the US and Europe, Ukraine too will find itself being pushed to the negotiating table. This raises the prospect for negotiations and an end to the war in 2023, which would bring relief to a worried world.

By this time in 2023, the world should find itself in a more stable place than it is today. This will help it focus on dealing with climate change -- the existential crisis of our time.

Robert J. Fouser

Robert J. Fouser, a former associate professor of Korean language education at Seoul National University, writes on Korea from Providence, Rhode Island. He can be reached at -- Ed.