The Korea Herald


The only way is up from a year of disappointments

By Choi He-suk

Published : Dec. 30, 2021 - 17:29

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A COVID-19 testing center is crowded with people waiting to be tested. (Yonhap) A COVID-19 testing center is crowded with people waiting to be tested. (Yonhap)
The year is at its end, but the problems that many had hoped to see the ends of still aren’t.

At its start, the year was “supposed” to bring hope. Hope in the form of vaccines to end the pandemic. Hope in the form of the UN Climate Change Conference. Hope in the form of a new US administration and the changes its rise would set in motion.

The reality, however, has fallen far short of the hopes.

The new administration taking control in the US has led to little change in the international order, and a turnaround in US-China relations looks unlikely, while COP26 produced results that many activists and experts consider too little to save the planet.

The pandemic rages on, with yet another even more transmissible variant pushing the world back to travel restrictions and lockdowns.

For South Korea, the situation is even direr. Daily caseloads and critical cases reached new highs, pushing the public health care system to its limits -- something the country had managed to avoid for nearly two years of the pandemic.

The pandemic aside, Korea saw no real improvements in political, social and economic issues.

The presidential race has deteriorated to little more than a series of accusations and a dirt-digging competition for all those involved. Scandals surrounding the candidates’ past and that of their family members have bogged down the campaigns, almost completely overshadowing pledges and policies.

Real estate prices soared throughout the year, further fanning public discontent. Small businesses have been pushed to the brink and large firms were buffeted by international uncertainties.

News of multiple murders committed by stalkers and those under the authorities’ scrutiny, as well as horrific child abuse, hit the headlines almost periodically throughout the year, revealing gaps in the laws designed to prevent such occurrences.

Outside of South Korea, North Korea remained unresponsive to calls to return to talks, and its leader Kim Jong-un only emphasized the need to strengthen military might, while South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in attempted to rally support for his idea of officially declaring the Korean War over.

Seoul’s relations with Japan remained as frosty as ever, while the balancing act between the US and China became increasingly more difficult.

For the coming year, the disappointments and difficulties from the past 12 months are perhaps a boon.

The year 2021 leaves the world at a low point, and from here perhaps things can only get better. The latest variant omicron is considered to possibly be less virulent, and could be a step toward COVID-19 becoming an endemic disease the world will learn to live with.

Although far from perfect, governments around the world have at least set more ambitious targets to combat climate change.

North Korea will remain unpredictable, but the new administration taking office in Seoul in May could prompt Pyongyang to tweak its strategy, which may open new opportunities.

Or at the very least, the passing year leaves a world used to getting bad news, and better prepared to handle any disappointments the New Year may bring.