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And so to 2014, with hope

Despite an unsettling close to 2013, with a shattered calm here and the baggage of wars past in North Asia weighing heavy on historical rivals, Singaporeans are seeing in 2014 in reasonably good heart.

Their preoccupation, as always, is with jobs, income, family well-being and protection of accumulated assets. It is undoubtedly a narrow prism through which to view prospects and events over which few governments can have much control. But the signs here are arguably positive.

The rate of imported labour input and its impact on productivity and GDP growth, inward investment for new jobs, and the influence of interest rate movements on consumption habits and wealth preservation, are the data to watch.

Assumptions need of course to be verified against the wider canvas. The International Monetary Fund forecasts a rise to 3.6 per cent in global output, from about 3 per cent for 2013. It is significant that projected gains will come from the United States, China and Japan.

Although the euro zone will let the troika down with its inconclusive austerity versus stimulus debate, the overall tone is still optimistic. Moreover, the withdrawal of America's monetary stimulus may not be as disruptive as feared.

But the ultimate test - against which all forecasts must be authenticated - is the security outlook in those regions which can move markets and determine consumer behaviour. The balance of probabilities is happily on the plus side, if only just so.

Iran's interim nuclear deal with the United Nations' five veto members plus Germany may not lead to a binding agreement this year, but the threat of war, implicating Israel, America and perhaps Saudi Arabia, has receded.

Next to the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, which just now is quiescent, West Asia has long been the area deemed most likely to undermine world peace.

Conflicts in Africa and Russia's Islamic underbelly, shown vividly in the pre-Winter Olympics bombings, do not have an equivalent potential to harm markets and international trade.

Then there is North Asia. The Japanese leader's visit to Yasukuni Shrine was reckless, given the timing and rawness of feeling in China and Korea. Shinzo Abe is now persona non grata in Beijing, lingering hopes of dialogue are gone, and the emotive words "aggressor" and "aggression" are being heard again after a long absence. This is the one legacy issue that will undo everything.

The integration of the two countries' economies is presumed to be an argument against precipitate acts by either nation. Can it override the visceral acuity of history on the one side, and a yearning to revive old glories on the other? One can only hope it would.


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