The rise of Donald Trump, tensions in the South China Sea, and the European migrant crisis are some of the major events that have helped make 2015 the year that it was. See below some of the events and people that captured our attention this year.
Given their scale and size, most of the events will help to continue to play a role in the things to come in 2016, and beyond.
The EU migrant crisis
In search of a better life or to escape conflict, over a million desperate asylum seekers arrived in the European Union this year. “As of 21 December, some 972,500 had crossed the Mediterranean Sea, according to UNHCR figures. In addition, IOM estimates that over 34,000 have crossed from Turkey into Bulgaria and Greece by land,” said the UNHCR.
More than 3,600 asylum seekers have died or gone missing during the hazardous journey, most of whom have been lost at sea.
The influx of people is the biggest humanitarian crisis that Western Europe has had to face since the end of the Second World War. The crisis is straining relationships between EU member countries, and has brought on anti-immigrant sentiment within many states.
There have also been concerns that violent jihadists are among the migrants coming into the EU.
Globally, the UNHCR says that the number of people who have forcibly been displaced from their homes is likely to be more than 60 million this year.
See this PBS News Hour report on Europe’s migrant crisis:
Populist Donald Trump: The bull in the China shop
Many pundits predicated that Donald J. Trump’s bid to be the Republican nomination for president would simply fizzle out. But, despite courting his fair share of controversy for some of his unscripted rhetoric, the flamboyant real estate tycoon has only gained in popularity.
Trump’s “Make America Great Again!” slogan and his non-PC style, seemingly has struck a chord with many disenfranchised Americans who think he’s worth the gamble.
For better or for worse, the uncompromising 69-year-old Trump dominates the GOP field, but the pundits still say whether he can win the nomination remains to be seen.
See this ABC News video of Trump being interviewed by veteran broadcast journalist, Barbara Walters:
Simmering tensions in the South China Sea
Thirty percent of the world’s trade goes through the South China Sea, an area that’s also rich in natural resources. The problem is that Beijing claims most of that sea — which is international territory — as its own. This especially irks its neighbors, such as Vietnam and the Philippines.
As part of Beijing’s efforts, the Chinese military have been extra busy during 2015 with dredging and land reclamation activities in contested waters that are 1,000 miles away from China’s shores.
The U.S. is worried that Beijing is aggressively flaunting international norms relating to both the freedom of navigation and the freedom of flight.
Upsetting Beijing, the U.S. sent a guided-missile destroyer to do a sail-by near Beijing’s artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago, to assert freedom of navigation in October.
Two U.S. B-52 bombers entered air space over Beijing’s Spratly claims in December. An Australian surveillance aircraft did something similar in the same month.
“It would be a shame if a plane fell from the sky,” was part of one Chinese state media warning over the Australian surveillance flight. The issue remains one that could potentially escalate into conflict.
See The Wall Street Journal report explaining what you need to know about the South China Sea dispute:
Russia enters the bloody quagmire that is Syria
Moscow has long supported Syria’s Bashar al-Assad who has been fighting multiple opponents since 2011. As per an al-Assad request, Russian military forces began operations in Syria in September, and they have been pounding parts of Syria ever since — mostly taking the form of air attacks.
Russia’s assertive action has been a contrast to America’s limited involvement in the Syrian civil war.
The Russians have targeted both Islamic State militants as well as those anti-regime forces that are backed by the U.S. and its allies. But, when a Turkish jet fighter shot down a Russian jet, which had intruded into Turkey’s airspace for 17 seconds, it brought a new level of tension to a conflict that has contributed to the mass exodus of refugees into the EU.
More recently, Russian airstrikes have caused the deaths of large numbers of civilians.
As fighting continues, speculation abounds on whether a diplomatic solution can be found to end a conflict that has, so far, claimed the lives of nearly 300,000 people.
See this Vox report on how the Syrian civil war became the mess it is today:
Beauty versus the beast
This year’s Miss World pageant finals where held in China’s beach-side resort area of Sanya, but Miss Canada was blocked by the Chinese authorities from attending.
Due to her human rights platform, Canada’s choice for the international pageant — Chinese-Canadian Anastasia Lin — was designated by Beijing as “persona non grata.”
Beyond not allowing the 25-year-old to attend the event, communist officials intimidated Lin’s sponsors, while state security applied pressure to her father in China. On the plus side, the resulting media coverage drew large amounts of attention to her cause, and for that matter, the Chinese authorities’ human rights abuses.
Despite the pressure, Lin — who is also a Falun Gong practitioner — came across as an incredibly brave and down to earth character who lived up to the pageant’s motto of “Beauty with a purpose.”
See this video from Anastasia Lin’s YouTube page where she gave a testimony at the U.S. Congressional Executive Commission on China:
The scourge of ISIS remains
Daesh, Islamic State, ISIS, or ISIL — however you prefer to call them — these ultra-violent jihadists have proved they are hard to get rid of in 2015, but they have lost some ground.
Kurdish forces, supported by coalition airstrikes, managed to drive Islamic State forces from the northern Syrian town of Kobane, but the jihadists took the Iraqi city of Ramadi, and captured the Syrian city of Palmyra, with its celebrated classical ruins which were turned into an execution ground.
However, ISIS also lost the strategically important town of Tal Abyad on Syria’s border with Turkey, the Iraq city of Tikrit, and Iraq’s Baiji refinery.
As the end of the year draws near, ISIS continues to control vast territories in Iraq and Syria, but it’s at least 14 percent less than they had last year.
The terror group has continued to shock the world with its execution videos, and their inspiring of terrorist attacks abroad. ISIS affiliates have taken control of small areas of Libya, Nigeria, and Afghanistan. An Egyptian affiliate said it was responsible for the bomb attack on a passenger plane in the Sinai Peninsula that killed 228 people.
Boyed by thousands of foreign fighters, there is no consensus on when the violent jihadists or their so called “caliphate” will be defeated.
See this six minute Vox report on how ISIS was created:
Terrorist attacks: Too many to list
Sadly, 2015 was a blood-soaked one with multiple terrorist attacks being committed by Islamic extremists. Of them all, it was the Islamic State’s killing of 130 people in Paris on November 13 that shook the west, and resulted in President François Hollande declaring: “France is at war.”
Earlier in the year, homegrown jihadists killed 11 people in the office of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical weekly newspaper. On the same day, another jihadist killed four people in a Paris grocery store, plus a police officer earlier.
In Africa, Boko Haram has run amok in northern Nigeria in 2015 committing mass atrocities, while militants from al-Shabaab have done the same in Somalia and Kenya. On April 2, al-Shabaab gunmen targeted a university in northern Kenya, murdering 148 staff and students.
In the air, a passenger airliner full of Russian tourists was bombed out of the sky above Egypt resulting in the deaths of 224 people.
Other countries that have been hit by mass casualty Islamic terrorist attacks include Syria, Iraq, Mali, Chad, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Thailand, and the U.S. who had the San Bernardino attacks.
Terrorism has gone global.
China’s former security czar jailed for life
China’s former security czar, Zhou Yongkang, was once one of the most powerful men in the Chinese Communist Party, but in June this year he was jailed for life.
Officially Zhou was put away on corruption charges, but many China watchers say his demise is part of a factional war that has pitted current leader, Xi Jinping, against former Party chief, Jiang Zemin, who continued to hold considerable power through a network of supporters.
Zhou was one of 89-year-old Jiang’s cronies, as were a large chunk of officials, such as former party boss of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, who have been caught up in Xis’ so-called anti-corruption drives. One of Zhou’s sons was also arrested in December 2013 on corruption charges.
Recent reports from sources inside China say that ex-Party leader Jiang himself will soon be officially arrested, and will face the same fate as Zhou. Details of what is driving the regime’s infighting have been hidden from view so to preserve the survival of the Communist Party, but you can expect further developments in the new year to be revealed.
See more about how Xi’s anti-corruption campaign seems to have finally targeted Jiang in this episode of China Uncensored:
Nepal hit by massive earthquake
Around 9,000 people died when an earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, hit Nepal on April 25. With a further 23,000 injured and 2 million made homeless, the quake was the worst to hit the mountainous nation in 80 years.
The quake set off massive avalanches throughout the Himalayan region, affecting large numbers of foreign tourists who were trekking. Nineteen people were killed by an avalanche on Mount Everest. As rebuilding continues in Nepal, many people currently face a difficult winter living in inadequate shelter.
The quake also caused damage and death in neighboring countries with 130 deaths being reported in India, 27 deaths in Tibet, and four in Bangladesh. In May, an aftershock hit the region, which killed a further 200 people.
See this footage, posted by Euro News, of a scene in Kathmandu when the earthquake struck:
China’s economic meltdown: A work in progress
China’s economy took some pretty big hits in 2015, especially with its stock market crashing mid-way through the year causing losses worth around $5 trillion. After the government stepped in to stem that, they then devalued the yuan in August, which Bloomberg says shook emerging market assets.
In the wake of those events there has since been little signs in the way of any economic turnaround. Add to that, the Chinese economy is burdened with an astounding debt load, and is being hamstrung by slow growth rates.
Kenneth Rogoff, a professor of economics at Harvard University, has long cautioned about a probable financial crisis hitting China. “Financial meltdown leads to a social meltdown, which leads to a political meltdown,” Rogoff told The New York Times in August. “That’s the real fear.”
As a back-up though, China does have trillions of dollars in reserves, it just depends on how they use it going forward.
See this report by Sky News about the economic challenges that China faces: