Looking ahead with hope
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Looking ahead with hope

First of all, welcome back to work to anyone who is lucky enough to be starting today instead of last week. I hope everyone had a wonderful New Year celebration with their friends and families.

So, what can we look forward to this year? I and many others in Bangkok are eagerly awaiting the expected opening of new mass-transit stations along the SRT Red Line and the BTS Light Green line. Let's hope there are no more delays.

Long-suffering commuters in Manila, meanwhile, have to wait longer to ride the Metro Rail Transit Line 7 (MRT-7). A partial section may open in the second quarter of 2021 with full completion pushed back to 2022. To our Filipino friends, all I can say is that we in Bangkok share your pain.

In Indonesia, the New Year got off to a tragic start with flash floods killing at least 43 people in Jakarta and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless after the most intense rainfall in 20 years. Yet another sign, many say, of worse things to come as the impact of climate change produces more extreme weather.

The ravaging bushfires in Australia are another example of what could happen if climate change deniers at the highest levels of public office continue to ignore the warning signs.

Thailand on Jan 1 made a big move to wean the public off single-use plastic, with a ban on plastic bags in some 20,000 retail outlets, including more than 10,000 7-Eleven stores. This is definitely a step in a good green direction.

Yes, there will be some consumer backlash, and we've heard reports that some stores may have logo-free plastic bags (to protect their reputation) on hand for customers who forget to bring their own. But that would be missing the point, wouldn't it?

Meanwhile, politics has been heating up in Thailand and Cambodia, with opposition figures challenging the legitimacy of the prevailing regimes. Sam Rainsy was foiled in his bid to return to Cambodia from exile in November, but now he is said to be biding his time somewhere in Southeast Asia, waiting for another opportunity to challenge strongman Hun Sen.

Locally, the Constitutional Court will decide on Jan 21 whether the Future Forward Party represents enough of a threat to the established order that it should be dissolved. FFP leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is gearing up for more resistance against what he deems repression by the military-influenced government.

In Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy face a general election this year. She remains highly popular at home despite -- or because of -- international condemnation of the oppression of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine state.

The US and Europe might be preparing further diplomatic action against Myanmar, but I am sure that The Lady has something in mind to deal with that. In any case, a move toward a warmer relationship with China seems expected and inevitable.

Speaking of China, it will be interesting to see how Vietnam, the most vocal opponent of Beijing's adventurism in the South China Sea, handles diplomatic challenges this year as the chair of Asean.

Farther North, tensions between Japan and South Korea seem to be easing for now, thankfully, but the noisy neighbour in Pyongyang is making missile noises again. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says he no longer feels bound by a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing. All bets with Washington are off, and he is telling his people to dig in and prepare to fight crippling sanctions. His next move is anyone's guess.

Since some members of my family live in Hong Kong, Christmas and New Year visits are usually something to look forward to. But seasonal fun and fireworks have given way to tear gas, and the clinking of beer glasses has been replaced by the sounds of breaking windows and rocks striking shields. What will happen to the restless city this year will largely be up to Beijing. Another six months of protests will certainly do no one any good, so maybe it's time to talk instead of yelling.

Sorry if I seem to be painting such a gloomy picture when the dawn of a new decade should be a time for hope. Perhaps we can hope, though, that this will be Donald Trump's last year in office. And let's pray that what happened between Tehran and Washington late last week is not a harbinger of doom.

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