Event recap: The World Ahead 2023

In December, Corporate Network held The World Ahead 2023 event, based on The Economist’s flagship publication that provides a global viewfinder for the coming year. It is built on more than three decades of experience with 2023 being the 37th edition. This event brought together EICN members from all nine of our network cities: Dubai, Johannesburg, Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai.

Tom Standage, deputy editor of The Economist and editor of The World Ahead, joined us from Singapore to present his predictions for 2023. Based on an unpredictable “new normal” as we enter a post-pandemic state, we discussed the world’s most pressing issues for the year ahead and what they mean for politics, economics, business, science and culture. Here are some of the highlights:

All eyes on Ukraine

Energy prices, inflation, interest rates, economic growth, food shortages – all depend on how the conflict plays out in the coming months. Rapid progress by Ukraine could threaten Putin, but a grinding stalemate seems the most likely outcome. Superforecasters predict a 9% chance that Putin is ousted at home, a low probability event. Russia will likely try to string out the conflict and hope that Western support for Ukraine recedes.

Recessions loom

Major economics will go into recession as central banks raise interest rates to stifle inflation, an after-effect of the pandemic since inflamed by high energy prices. America’s recession should be relatively mild, Europe’s will be more brutal, and we are somewhat sheltered here in Asia. The pain will be global though, as the strong dollar hurts poor countries already hit by soaring food prices.

Climate silver lining

As countries rush to secure their energy supplies, they are turning back to dirty fossil fuels. But in the medium term, the war will accelerate the switch to renewables, which by and large have a geopolitical discount.

Peak China?

Some time in April, China’s population will be overtaken by India’s, at around 1.43bn. With China’s population in decline, and its economy facing headwinds, we had much discussion of whether China has peaked.

Divided America

Although Republicans did worse than expected in the midterm elections, social and cultural divides on abortion, guns and other hot button issues continue to widen. Trump’s formal entry into the 2024 presidential race pours fuel on the fire. Though indirect, this could have effects in Asia.

Flashpoints to watch

The intense focus on the war in Ukraine heightens the risk of conflict elsewhere. With Russia distracted, conflicts are breaking out in its backyard. China may decide there will never be a better time to make a move on Taiwan. India-China tensions are flaring up in the Himalayas. Myanmar is still a hot-spot in ASEAN.

Shifting alliances

Amid geopolitical shifts, alliances are responding. NATO, revitalised by the war in Ukraine, will welcome two new members. Will Saudi Arabia join the Abraham accords – an emerging bloc? Other groupings of growing importance include the Quad and AUKUS, two US led clubs intended to deal with the rise of China.

Revenge tourism

As travellers engage in post-lockdown “revenge” tourism, spending will almost regain its 2019 level of $1.4trn, but only because inflation has pushed up prices. The actual number of international tourist trips, at 1.6bn, will still be below the pre-pandemic level of 1.8bn in 2019. Business travel will remain weak as firms cut costs.

Metaverse reality check

Will the idea of playing and working in virtual worlds catch on beyond video games? 2023 will provide some answers as Apple launches its first VR headset and Meta decides whether to change its strategy as its share price languishes.

Thanks to all the members who attended the event and raised some pretty interesting questions. Our favourite was “Have we reached peak human?” – certainly something worth considering as we enter a more complex 2023.

Our team would like to thank all our members for their time over the past year and wish everyone happy holidays. Hopefully there is some mirth and merriment as we wind down the year and look to the next. We’ll see you for our first event when we’re back in January!

Special thanks to our panel in Singapore, who helped stretch our imagination around some pretty hefty topics: Chor Pharn Lee, Takayuki Yokota, Sheila Pakir and Sumana Rajarethnam and to Tom Standage for his wonderful presentation.

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