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Who had it good — and who had it bad — in 2022

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Law enforcement officials step into the vandalized gateway to Sri Lanka’s presidential palace in July. The country has been hit hard by an economic crisis.

Abhishek Chinnappa | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Curtis S. Chin, a former U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, is managing director of advisory firm RiverPeak Group. Jose B. Collazo is an analyst specializing in the Indo-Pacific region. Follow them on Twitter at @CurtisSChin and @JoseBCollazo.

As the brand new 12 months approaches, we turn again to our annual take a look at Asia’s winners and losers. Government and business leaders in every major economy — China now included — may hope 2023 is the 12 months when draconian pandemic-related lockdowns turn out to be a matter of history.

In our 2021 annual review, we awarded “worst 12 months in Asia” to Afghan women and girls — a consequence of the U.S. and its allies’ chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and the return of Taliban rule. “Best 12 months” went to Asia’s Cold War warriors, as social media, “wolf warriors” and politicians helped spark a return to Cold War rhetoric amid worsening U.S.-China relations.

Now, with hopes that Covid is in retreat and that inflation will moderate within the 12 months ahead, we take a final take a look at who had it good and who had it bad in 2022.

Best Yr: Southeast Asia’s comeback kids — Marcos and Anwar

Perseverance proved a winner in 2022 because the 12 months ended with Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. of the Philippines and Anwar Ibrahim of Malaysia becoming leaders of their respective countries. One salvaged a family legacy, the opposite moved from prison to power — storylines befitting a Netflix series.

Within the Philippines, Marcos — the namesake son of his authoritarian father — won a landslide election in May for president, despite what detractors see as a family legacy of corruption and impunity. Greater than 35 years ago, in February 1986, the senior Marcos and his wife Imelda fled to Hawaii in exile, driven out by a People Power Revolution and a lack of U.S. support.

And in Malaysia, Anwar finally proved a winner in November, shedding the long-held descriptor of “prime-minister-in-waiting” to turn out to be his nation’s tenth prime minister. That followed many years marked by smear campaigns, imprisonment and backroom intrigue because the onetime deputy prime minister challenged vested interests along with his vows to combat corruption.

The 2 now face the challenge of governing and moving their respective countries forward. Stay tuned for the following episode.

Good Yr: Taiwan’s semiconductor chipmakers 

In a 12 months that saw tensions between the usand China reach a feverish peak when U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei, the island’s sophisticated semiconductor industry ends the 12 months in position. Taiwan’s chipmakers are more essential than ever.  

Semiconductor chips lie at the center of every part from computers to cars to smartphones. Underscoring the Taiwanese tech industry’s critical role, a Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA)/Boston Consulting Group 2021 study found that 92% of the world’s most advanced semiconductor manufacturing capability is positioned in Taiwan. The opposite 8% was in South Korea. 

TSMC headquarters in Hsinchu, Taiwan. The semiconductor manufacturer’s products lie at the center of every part from automobiles to smartphones.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A rare bipartisan U.S. Congress has taken notice, passing in July 2022 the CHIPS and Science Act, which allocates $52 billion in federal funding to spur further domestic production of semiconductor chips. In December, the world’s dominant chipmaker, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), announced plans for a second semiconductor chip plant in Arizona, raising to $40 billion what’s already one in all the biggest foreign investments in U.S. history. 

With numbers like those, Taiwan’s semiconductor industry ends the 12 months on the move, still constructing ties and winning growing support from business and government in the US and elsewhere.

Mixed Yr: Asia’s ‘love’ for crypto

As in much of the world, investors in Asia — once bedazzled if not bewitched by the crypto industry — end the 12 months in a mixed mood. Industry meltdowns have left many, including in government, wondering if the message of caveat emptor — buyer beware — is sufficient, and latest regulations loom. 

The crypto exchange FTX’s billions-dollar implosion set off alarm bells throughout the region. Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, which has written off its entire $275 million investment within the now-collapsed FTX cryptocurrency business, has suffered “reputational damage,” Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said.

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is led by officers of the Royal Bahamas Police force following his arrest.

Mario Duncanson | Afp | Getty Images

Bad Yr: Sri Lanka, the (one-time) pearl of South Asia 

Even amid food insecurity and economic worries across much of Asia, the pictures of offended residents storming the official residence of Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Presidential Secretariat stand out in what was most decidedly a nasty 12 months for this one-time “pearl of South Asia.”

Sri Lanka continues to face a multidimensional crisis. A broken economy, depleted foreign currency reserves, high inflation — at one point reaching greater than 70% — and power, fuel and food shortages made worse by the impact of the war in Ukraine, a growing “brain drain” and meager tourism numbers characterize this south Asian nation today.

Negotiations for an IMF deal remain complicated by large amounts of Sri Lankan debt held so by China, India and Japan.

By September, nearly 200,000 Sri Lankans had left the island nation, and 1000’s of would-be emigrants were planning on doing the identical seeking a brighter future elsewhere. 

An IMF deal to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt could provide much needed money and economic stability, but negotiations remain complicated by large amounts of Sri Lankan debt held so by China, India and Japan.

Worst 12 months: China’s beleaguered, locked-down residents

While China has taken pride in an awfully low variety of (officially reported) Covid-related deaths, the nation has also turn out to be a showcase for the negative consequences of efforts to contain the virus. In what must have been 12 months for Chinese President Xi Jinping, he has seen the 12 months close with a wave of Chinese discontent. 

By year-end, anti-lockdown protests were reported in quite a few cities, including on the world’s largest iPhone assembly factory in Zhengzhou, as China’s zero-Covid policy took its toll on the economy and on a regular basis people’s mental health.

China will come through the Covid reopening, but it's going to be a bumpy ride

“We would like freedom, not Covid tests,” became a standard chant of some protesters, in line with Reuters, as individuals “pushed the boundaries by speaking for change in a rustic where space for dissent has narrowed dramatically.”

The spark that set off the rare protests was news of the deaths of 10 people, including several children, in an apartment constructing fire in Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang province — in an area that had been locked down for several months. A storyline on social media that resonated across the country focused on the role that Covid controls may need played in those deaths.

Chinese residents can take heart that those protests may have had an impact. The Chinese government has begun to chill out zero-Covid restrictions. Still, the nation continues to lag the world in opening and moving forward, and worries proceed in regards to the nation’s rate of vaccination among the many elderly.

And so, whilst hope has returned for a greater 12 months ahead, China’s beleaguered, locked-down residents take the dubious honors of worst 12 months in Asia 2022.

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