Saturday, 31 December 2011

Mayans didn't predict end of world, but the start of regeneration

IN THURSDAY'S commentary ('2012: Asia's big moment at risk' by Mr William Pesek), the writer wrongly attributed to the ancient Mayas of Mexico the prediction that the world would end in 2012.

To make things more confusing, the illustration accompanying the article had a reproduction not of the Mayan calendar, but the so-called Aztec calendar, in reality the Aztec's stone monument to the sun god.

To set the record straight, according to authorised scholars on the subject, the ancient Mayans - great architects, mathematicians and astronomers - predicted in the 6th century AD not the end of the world on Dec 23, 2012, but the end of the 13th cycle 'b'ak'tun' of the Mayan calendar, and the beginning of a new cycle in which the cosmos would regenerate.

Also, it may be mentioned that the Mayan calendar is not represented in a single image, but is a complex system consisting of around 15,000 hieroglyphic signs, known as Mayan glyphs, which look very different from the Aztec sun god stone.

We are very happy to note the great interest in the Mayan prophecies around the world, and present day Mexicans and descendants of the Mayans in the Mexican state of Yucatan are preparing to receive during 2012 a large number of visitors interested to know more about the vast cultural and scientific legacy of the Mayans and the rich diversity and attractions Mexico has to offer our visitors from abroad.

I take this opportunity to extend to readers my best wishes for a wonderful 2012 as well as a warm invitation to visit Mexico in 2012, and welcome the advent of a new and better cycle for humanity on Mayan territory.

As chair of the Group of 20 nations, Mexico will be hosting in June a summit of leaders, in order to contribute to solving some of the urgent problems mentioned in the commentary.

Antonio Villegas
Ambassador of Mexico to Singapore
ST Forum, 31 Dec 2011



2012: Asia's big moment at risk
By William Pesek, Published The Straits Times, 29 Dec 2011

THE Mayans were wrong. The world will not end next year, but at times it may feel as if it is about to. Such is Asia's lot as Europe's debt debacle and the United States' political paralysis fuse, presenting challenges for leaders from Beijing to Jakarta.

In a less chaotic time, this might have been Asia's big moment. News this week that Japan and China will promote direct trading of yen and yuan without using dollars is a case in point. An eastward shift of power and capital would seem to be a given as Brussels and Washington turn inward. Yet a worsening global environment will interrupt Asia's path to economic dominance.

Here are eight risks that may get in Asia's way:

1. Recoupling

Asia steered around the US meltdown in 2008 with remarkable agility. Doing that will be harder in the 12 months ahead as all of the world's major growth engines stall or go into reverse. Default risks in Europe will increase, the US' funk will persist in an election year, Japan's malaise will deepen and China will hit a soft patch. With deft fiscal and monetary manoeuvring, Asia grew impressively in the three-plus years since Lehman Brothers imploded. A repeat performance is unlikely.

2. Pocket book worries

Consumers will become more dissatisfied with the toxic mix of inflation and widening income inequality. Leaders are not doing enough to make sure the benefits of growth are shared equitably. As the Gini coefficient - a statistical measure of wealth inequality - rises across Asia, increasing tensions will play out in unpredictable ways in markets and politics.

3. Occupy Wukan

It is getting harder for China to keep its 1.3 billion people from hearing about events in a coastal village in Guangdong province. There, thousands of people fed up with land seizures took to the streets and forced out Communist Party officials. This Occupy Wall Street dynamic is a startling contrast to the usual success China has in quashing any hint of public discord. As The New York Times points out, there are at least 625,000 potential Wukans in China. The 12 months ahead will be busy for China's thought police.

4. Political intrigue

China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan will pick new leaders. State elections in India will help determine if Mr Rahul Gandhi will soon replace his mother Sonia Gandhi as president of the ruling Congress Party. Taiwan's contest could be a standout - a verdict on President Ma Ying-jeou's economic policies and drive for better relations with China. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea could bubble over. Violence might break out in Thailand if ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is allowed to return. In Myanmar, Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's move to register her party for elections will test the government's recent steps towards democracy.

5. The Kim follies

As the world gets used to Mr Kim Jong Un replacing his father Kim Jong Il as North Korean leader, there's no telling how things will unfold in Pyongyang. Will the 20-something Mr Kim feel obliged to show he means business with missile launches into the South and nuclear tests? Might military generals who covet the top job rebel? The questions about the world's most secretive regime hover over all of Asia.

6. Internet clampdown

Beijing's great wall of censorship is raising cyber clampdowns to an art form, the latest on Twitter-like services. Yet the Internet is under attack throughout Asia. India is stepping up efforts to require Facebook, Google and other portals to remove content that may be deemed offensive. South Korea and Thailand have been suppressing more and more information. Balancing transparency and state control of information will become harder.

7. Japan's debt trap

The conventional take is that Japan is in a liquidity trap, which makes it impossible for zero interest rates to stimulate the economy. The real problem is a debt trap, and the yen is part of it. On the one hand, a strong currency is prompting companies to go shopping overseas to hedge against the country's ageing population, lack of growth and a vulnerability to earthquakes and other disasters. On the other, it is further hollowing out Japanese industry. That will lead Japan to add to its debt, the world's largest, risking further credit downgrades.

8. Chinese gravity

China's bust. It is a make-or-break year for China's efforts to defy the economic laws of gravity. A bad-debt hangover from the huge stimulus of recent years is a distinct possibility. Markedly slower growth would be a nightmare for the Chinese Communist Party obsessed with social stability. It also would be a big blow to a country such as Australia, which is more vulnerable to a Chinese slump than officials in Canberra admit.

Should the second-biggest economy join the US, Europe and Japan in the slow-growth club, Asia would find itself in treacherous territory. That would not be the end of the world as the Mayans anticipated for next year, but it would be different from the one we have come to know.

BLOOMBERG NEWS

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